Council asks for permanent injunction to stop protests outside UK oil terminal | Environmental activism

A council is trying to extend a controversial injunction against “persons unknown” to stop any future protests outside an oil terminal operated by Shell UK.

Lawyers for North Warwickshire borough council will argue in the high court on Tuesday that an interim injunction granted in 2022 should be made permanent to stop protests outside Kingsbury oil terminal in Tamworth.

The move comes as concerns are growing over the use of “persons unknown” injunctions, which Friends of the Earth says allow private companies to create bespoke public order laws that stifle peaceful protest.

The injunctions, which have begun appearing in the last two years, are taken out against unknown defendants to maximise the number of people who can be caught by them, even if they are unaware of the orders.

Sixteen people have already served time in jail for up to 85 days for breaching the interim civil injunction granted to the borough council in 2022 to protect the Kingsbury oil terminal, which is operated by Shell, along with Essar and Valero Energy Corporation, from the impact of demonstrations by Just Stop Oil.

More than 50 more people were arrested in September 2022 for breaching the injunction. Most were given two-year suspended sentences, six were jailed.

Those jailed included the retired GP Dr Sarah Benn and Sarah Webb. One hundred and twenty individuals are named on the injunction, as well as “persons unknown who are organising, participating in or encouraging others to participate in protests against the production and/or use of fossil fuels in the locality of the site known as Kingsbury oil terminal”.

The council, in its legal argument, denies it is using taxpayers’ money to protect a private oil company facility. It says it is seeking to make the injunction permanent in order to “protect the interests of the inhabitants of their area and those who work there and travel through it”.

The council cited the dangerous behaviour of some of the protesters in 2022, which included breaking into the terminal and tampering with pipework, while using electrical devices in the vicinity of potentially explosive oil fumes.

The local authority said there were no protests at the site now, but argued that there remained a high risk of disruptive and dangerous protests at the terminal if a final injunction was not granted.

None of the defendants are legally represented at the three-day hearing, which begins on Tuesday. Webb, who spent 16 days in Foston Hall women’s prison in Derby in 2022 for twice breaking the injunction, intends to ask the judge if she can speak. She said: “I knowingly broke the NWBC injunction twice in 2022. These were not selfish acts, but acts of peaceful protest.

“I was sent to a prison that at the time was deemed the most violent women’s prison in the country. Inside prison, I was physically assaulted by the prison guards.

“As a result of being sent to prison, I have lost my career as a children’s special educational needs tutor. I now have no income. Most of us named defendants broke the injunction in an attempt to protect millions of lives, and we were sent to prison as a result of our peaceful protest.”

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She said she feared that the council would seek its costs from her and the other named individuals.

Asked if they were going to apply for costs from the defendants, a spokesperson for North Warwickshire borough council declined to comment.

Friends of the Earth is challenging the use of injunctions against persons unknown in the European court of human rights. The environmental NGO says it is concerned over a “rapid and widespread” increase in use of the orders in recent years, amid a wider crackdown on environmental protest and the introduction of strict anti-protest laws in Britain.

Katie de Kauwe, a lawyer at Friends of the Earth, said: “Anti-protest injunctions are a confusing, opaque, parallel system of prohibitions that private companies and public authorities are using to create their own bespoke public order laws.”

These measures have really gone under the radar,” she said. “People don’t realise how serious the issues are, given the penalties for a breach are so severe.

The UN rapporteur for environmental defenders has heavily criticised the draconian clampdown on the right to protest in England and Wales, including the use of civil injunctions, saying the measures are having a chilling impact on fundamental freedoms.

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