Environmental campaigners backed by Bianca Jagger have been banned from carrying out certain protest activities at two oil and gas drilling sites.
A High Court judge granted an interim injunction to UK Oil and Gas Investments (Ukog) against “persons unknown” who might be involved in direct action, after the company claimed actions by some protesters were unlawful.
The judge said the demonstrators had rights but that they were not permitted to carry out “unlawful acts” at sites in Surrey and Sussex which would interfere with the company’s rights.
However, he refused to grant an injunction in relation to the firm’s head office in Guildford and said other campaigning activities – such as publicising protests and monitoring the sites – should not be prohibited.
Ms Jagger attended an earlier hearing in March and gave her support to the demonstrators.
The former wife of Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger said at that time: “Ukog’s attempt to silence environmental defenders with an injunction is an attack on freedom of expression and democracy.
“I am appalled that residents of south-east England are being threatened with intimidation and censorship for speaking out against the potentially irreversible damage to their way of life, to their water sources, to the air, and their environment by unconventional drilling operations.
There have been a number of “direct action” protests at sites in Surrey and Sussex, including the construction of a “fortress” and network of tunnels.
Other campaigners have taken part in “lorry surfing”, slow walking in front of vehicles to obstruct access. and holding coffee morning-style events at site entrances – including one called Cake At The Gate.
Lawyers for Ukog and four of its subsidiaries said some protests were intended to interfere with its “economic interests” and asked for a ban on a range of activities around its sites at Broadford Bridge in Sussex and Horse Hill in Surrey.
Timothy Polli QC previously told the court the firm is not using “fracking”, but understands that some find the extraction of resources from the ground “controversial”.
Granting the interim injunction on Monday, Judge John Male QC said: “I accept that protests on the highway are permitted, but the rights of others also to use the highway must be respected, as also must the rights of the claimants to pursue their lawful business activities and to enjoy the rights in land and in their chattels.”
Five campaigners, including actress Susan Jameson, and Friends of the Earth were defendants to the High Court action.
In a statement issued after the ruling, defendants from the Weald Action Group said: “Communities across the South East are rightly fearful of the threat posed by these companies to their environment and people will find it very confusing to work out what they can and can’t do under the terms of this injunction.
“We’re going to fight on. Oil companies cannot be allowed to set the legal framework for protest in this way.
“Dissent is not a crime and the penalties for breaching an injunction are severe.
“We do not believe that powerful private companies should be able to use the law to silence and intimidate campaigners concerned about the dangers and damage to the environment and our communities.”
The campaigners said they are considering an appeal against the judge’s ruling.
Dave Timms, head of political affairs at Friends of the Earth, said: “While Ukog have suffered a set-back today, we remain concerned that the injunction granted has far-reaching consequences for free speech, so this isn’t over yet.
“Friends of the Earth will continue to fight the growing use of anti-protest injunctions by the oil and gas industry.”
Ukog’s chief executive Stephen Sanderson said: “Ukog is pleased that this judgment firmly upholds the Company’s collective human, legal and democratic right to conduct its lawful business without hindrance from the unlawful actions of activists whose intent is to cause physical, psychological and financial harm to our company, staff, contractors, supply chain and local residents.
“For the avoidance of doubt, this injunction did not seek in any way to remove the right to peaceful protest, freedom of assembly, or freedom of expression.
“It sought solely to gain a judicial determination of whether certain damaging actions employed by activists at our sites constituted peaceful, lawful protest or were unlawful.”