Tina Rothery of The Nanas on an anti-fracking protest. Photo: The Nanas.
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Cuadrilla versus The Nanas - #IamTinaRothery
23rd June 2016
Thanks to fracking company Cuadrilla, grandmother Tina Rothery will be in court tomorrow over a £55,000 'debt' imposed on her for joining a peaceful occupation of a fracking site in Lancashire. But as she explains, she can't pay, she won't pay, and even if she could pay, she wouldn't. Someone has to stand up to corporate vandalism and abuse of justice - and in this case, it's her, no matter what the consequences.
Giving in to bullying and persecution was the first thing off the table, followed by any idea of giving so much as a penny to support what I see as criminal activities and abuse of legitimate campaigners.
At 5am on 7th August 2014 a group of 26 people from Lancashire naming ourselves 'The Nanas', occupied a field on Preston New Road, near Blackpool, Lancashire using a 'section 6' notice (squatters use this).
The vast majority who went over the fence that morning had never been activists or taken part in a direct action before. The threat though of fracking in Lancashire by a company called Cuadrilla, was very real.
Despite petitions, unprecedented numbers of planning objections, MPs lobbied, letters to press and countless public meetings - we felt our strong objection to this industry was unheard and uncared about.
We could see that our government's determination to "go all out for gas" was steamrollering its way towards us and democratic process offered no further options.
After chatting to residents of a neighbouring retirement community a few weeks before, we realised just how many were completely unaware of what was proposed and just how much it would impact their lives. By taking the field under the Section 6, we hope to cause a dispute about the use of this land and primarily, to raise local awareness.
Evicted! After we had already gone
Although we did not announce the end-date for the occupation in the first press release, the police and landowner were informed on the day, that this would last for three weeks and we would vacate on 26th August. Later press releases, online blogs and social media posts made this leaving date public too.
No damage was done but a huge amount was achieved during those three weeks; with neighbours bringing ice and fresh bread daily, the local milkman dropping off when he could and so many conversations and information days that 'Frack Free Lancashire' signs multiplied throughout the area and neighbours became 'community'.
On the day we left, we completed a fingertip-search of the field, filmed this and our departure and delivered a note to the land owner explaining we were gone and all was tidy. We informed the press and police as well. Cuadrilla (through the landowner) 'evicted' the clean, empty field on 27th August 2016. We found ourselves in court on the 28th.
Out of our depth but determined to continue protecting our young and standing up for our community, we went to court. It was made clear that if no-one stepped forward to say they would be the 'named defendant' - that proceedings would go ahead without our involvement or possibly by selecting from video footage.
Aside from being an integral part of this, I am also much lighter on responsibilities than others and also own very little - so my name went forward. I had no real idea of what would come but allowed a solicitor to represent me and to call for an adjournment so I could get advice.
Summoned to court on 24th June
We went back to court in October where the costs for the 'eviction' were set at over £60,000 and an injunction put in place to prevent access to the site by anyone aware of the injunction; the injunction would last until planning was rejected or October 2016 - whichever came first.
Planning was rejected last summer but has now gone to appeal by Cuadrilla to overturn our local decision. The legal team on our side objected to the costs that were later reduced to just over £55,000 and an offer of £500 (proposed under the advice of the legal team) rejected by Cuadrilla / landowner.
Nothing further happened until...
On 7th May 2016 a man approached me at a family fundraising day in Blackpool and tried to serve what he claimed were legal papers. As I was with my grandchild and great-nephews I simply walked away and refused to engage with this stranger. Two weeks later at events during planning hearings in Yorkshire, a man in a stab-vest tried to enter to find me to serve papers.
It is worth noting that after the court case in 2014, I had ceased to have legal representation and had written to the court as well as Cuadrilla / landowner's law firm (Eversheds) explaining that I was the point of contact and all correspondence would have to come direct to me.
As well as being on the electoral roll, I provided an address, phone number and email; there was never a need to search for me, let alone in a stab-vest! I am a concerned grandmother exercising my right to peacefully protest, not a violent criminal.
I contacted Eversheds and asked that they serve the papers in a civil way, without the drama and not when I am in the company of children. Eventually they responded to my email and I arranged to meet the representative and take the papers.
I am named as the 'Judgment Debtor' and summonsed to appear at Blackpool Law Courts at 10am on 24th June 2016 - to provide financial information regarding the costs against me. Failure to attend, the papers say, may result in being found in 'contempt of court'.
Can't pay. Wouldn't pay. Won't pay.
I have been through quite a lot now with this vile industry and our complicit government bodies since getting involved five years ago; my faith in a fair democracy and just law is battered. This time I do not want legal representation as it seems the purpose of such, is to simply reduce the impact on me - not to address the unfairness.
So I will tell the Court Officers (no Judge this time I think) that I will not pay any amount. More than the simple fact of not being able to pay, this is about reaching my own line-in-the-sand point in this long struggle.
Five years of travelling throughout the country for public meetings, helping inform new groups, hearing from deeply concerned residents, staying at 'protection camps' that spring up to slow the industry and battling with officials, police and government has been too eye-opening. I now see clearly that this industry (like many others I expect) uses anything it can to silence opposition and time and again, uses our law courts against peaceful protesters.
I believe our law courts should be about seeing true justice, not as a weapon against opposition. Our law courts and legal system are a costly indulgence that eats time and money that activists just don't have. So many from the camps were kept away from further protest with injunctions and court dates that mostly ended up with 'not guilty' verdicts from at least a few understanding judges.
As a movement, how much more time and money can we spend before we are depleted?
I looked at the options available to me and set about removing all the things I would not tolerate - giving in to bullying and persecution was the first thing off the table, followed by any idea of giving so much as a penny to support what I see as criminal activities and abuse of perfectly legitimate campaigners.
This industry along with a compliant and complicit government, has shared misleading reports, misled communities and lied about benefits versus risks and yet I find myself marked as a criminal.
Since mentioning the court date on social media, an event along the lines of 'I am Spartacus' has been created along with the hashtag #IamTinaRothery. Activists throughout the country who oppose this industry are very clearly a mass - a movement and what is done to one group or individual, impacts all others.
I am honoured by the support but know that this is not about anyone 'being me' - but about me being representative of others who stand with the same determination to stop this industry before it harms us.
I don't know what happens next but do know that as I am protecting my young ... I will not be stopped because this is an obligation, not a choice.
Action: Tina Rothery will be in Blackpool Law Courts at 10am on Friday 24 June 2016 - Chapel Street, FY1 5RJ. Supporters are meeting outside from 9am.
Tina Rothery is a grandmother and anti-fracking campaigner who has travelled throughout the country over the past five years explaining to local communities the threat that fracking poses to theior health and wellbeing, helping to inspire a movement that has grown from a handful of groups to more than 400 today. She lives in Blackpool and works with a variety of groups including the 'Nanas'.
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