Demonstrators who camped out on the verge of a busy West Sussex road for three months in protest against a nearby ‘fracking’ operation have been ordered to leave by the High Court on the basis that human rights considerations could not justify their indefinite occupation of public land.
The campaigners had parked their tents and mobile homes on a 0.75-mile stretch of the B2036 road, near Haywards Heath, in order to voice their opposition to what they viewed as the ‘vile fracking industry’. However, West Sussex County Council argued that their ‘semi-permanent’ residence on the site had caused a litany of health and safety issues. Their presence was alleged to have led to build-up or rubbish and an infestation of rats on the site.
The Council – which said that it had spent £80,000 on dealing with such problems – also submitted that the encampment had the potential to cause traffic accidents and that unsympathetic motorists had been known to pelt protestors with objects from passing cars. The Council pointed out that it had erected a dedicated and fenced protest site which was available for those who wished to use it ‘from time to time’, although not for a long-term encampment.
The protestors denied that their presence was causing any serious health and safety problems and argued that their human rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, enshrined in Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, should prevail.
Whilst emphasising that the protestors were entitled to air their legitimate views, the Court issued a possession order, concluding: “The question is whether the Council, as landowners, and members of the public…should be obstructed in the use of the land and the highway by the encampment? The answer is plainly no.
“There is no right for anyone in any circumstances, notwithstanding their Article 10 and 11 rights, to establish a camp which is intended to be used indefinitely upon public land.”