“Judge who jailed fracking protesters with ‘excessive’ sentence has family links to oil and gas firm”

“A judge criticised for handing prison sentences to three fracking protesters has family links to the oil and gas industry.

Judge Robert Altham jailed Simon Blevins, 26, Richard Roberts, 36, and Richard Loizou, 31, over their demonstration at a Cuadrilla site.

The trio, known as the “Fracking Three”, are believed to be the first environmental activists to be imprisoned for public nuisance since 1932.

Critics have claimed the punishment was “manifestly excessive”. Now the Daily Mirror can reveal the Altham family business supplies the Irish Sea oil and gas industry.

J.C. Altham and Sons is believed to be part of the supply chain for energy giant Centrica, which has invested tens of millions of pounds in fracking.

Judge Altham’s sister, Jane Watson, put her name to an open letter in favour of fracking, which said, “It’s time to give shale a chance” and claimed it would create jobs.

The judicial code of conduct states a judge’s impartiality may be questioned if family members are “politically active” or have “financial interest” in the outcome of a case.

Lawyers for the protesters are trying to overturn their sentences. Loizou’s mum Sharron, 62, told the Mirror: “I was completely shocked when he was jailed, the sentence is incredibly harsh. We were expecting community service or a suspended sentence.

“It’s quite scary that in this country you can be jailed for a peaceful protest.” …

Soil scientist Blevins and piano restorer Roberts were given 16-month jail terms while teacher Loizou got 15 months last month.

Sentencing at Preston crown court, Judge Altham said: “Only immediate custody can achieve sufficient punishment.”

The judge’s parents John and Linda, 86 and 84, are ­directors of J.C. Altham & Sons.

His sister Jane, 54, is managing director of the firm, which supplies ships’ stores, including food, tools, rigging equipment and clothes. The firm’s website says it is a “specialist supplier to offshore gas and oil platforms”.

Three oil rigs in the East Irish Sea – near Altham’s base at Heysham, Lancs – belong to British Gas owner Centrica, which has ploughed tens of millions of pounds into fracking firm Cuadrilla.

In 2015 Jane’s name and that of her firm appeared on an open letter backed by 119 businesses.

It urged Lancashire County Council to permit fracking and create a “£33billion supply chain”.

The campaign was led by North West Energy Task Force, which allegedly received financial support from Cuadrilla and Centrica. The NWETF was later rebranded as lobbying group ­Lancashire For Shale.

LFS has praised Judge Altham’s decision saying: “Justice was served effectively.”

But more than 200 academics signed an open letter calling for a judicial review of the “absurdly harsh” sentence. About 200 supporters of the trio marched outside HMP Preston, where they are being held, at the weekend. The trio’s lawyers have approached the Court of Appeal and asked for an expedited hearing.

It means they could be freed within weeks if Judge Altham’s sentencing decision is ruled unsafe. Kirsty Brimelow QC, of Doughty Street Chambers, has taken their cases pro-bono. She said: “These men should not be in prison at all, the sentence is manifestly excessive.”

Judges are expected to tell defence and ­prosecution lawyers if they feel their impartiality in a case may be called into question.

A spokesman for the Judges’ Council said: “There are longstanding principles, set out in case law, which guide how judges approach possible conflicts of interest. They ensure that when hearing a case, a judge will be mindful of possible conflicts of interest and can draw relevant matters to the attention of parties in the case.”

Judge Altham did not wish to add anything to the Judges’ Council’s statement.

Sister Jane, a former police officer whose husband Stephen is the Chief Constable of South ­Yorkshire Police, declined to comment today. …”

https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/judge-criticised-jailing-fracking-protesters-13396324

“Government faces court action over ‘illegal’ planning policy”

“The government is facing a legal challenge over its new planning policy, which campaigners say was illegally adopted because the government failed to assess its environmental impact.

The revised National Planning Policy Framework, published in July, informs local policies across England, from planning permission to town and country planning and land use. It has significant weight in development decisions, from the amount and location of built development to the way environmental impacts are assessed, and also deals with policies concerning air pollution, energy generation, water management and biodiversity.

A strategic environmental assessment (SEA) is required by EU law for public plans relating to land use and planning, among other things. It is required wherever policies are likely to have a significant impact on the environment. Friends of the Earth wants to force the government to undertake an SEA, consult the public and modify the framework based on those findings.

The NGO has filed a claim at the high court, saying the NPPF makes it “virtually impossible” for councils to refuse local fracking schemes, fails to rule out future coal developments, and introduces harsh new rules for wind energy schemes. It argues it is impossible to gauge the environmental impact of such policies without a strategic assessment. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/sep/04/government-faces-court-action-over-illegal-planning-policy

“Buried UK government report finds fracking increases air pollution”

“A UK government report concluding that shale gas extraction increases air pollution was left unpublished for three years and only released four days after ministers approved fracking in Lancashire, it has emerged.

The report, written by the government’s Air Quality Expert Group (AQEG), was given to ministers in 2015, but was published quietly on 27 July. Fracking firm Cuadrilla was given the first permit under a new regulatory regime on 24 July, the final day of the parliamentary year.

The Labour shadow environment secretary, Sue Hayman, said: “The decision to grant a licence to Cuadrilla must urgently be reconsidered.” An earlier government report concluding that fracking could cause nearby house prices to fall by up to 7% was also delayed until after an important planning decision.

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“There’s a pattern emerging, with environmentally unfriendly government announcements being scheduled to pre-empt worrying reports by experts,” Hayman said. “The decision on Heathrow’s third runway was also taken days before the Committee on Climate Change reported on the danger of CO2 emissions.” A Labour government would ban fracking.

The report estimated that a fracking industry of 400 wells would increase national emissions of pollution, with nitrogen dioxides rising 1-4% and volatile organic compounds 1-3%. But it warned: “Impacts on local and regional air quality have the potential to be substantially higher than the national level impacts, as extraction activities are likely to be highly clustered.”

“The thing that surprised me was you think the main sources of air pollution are going to be coming from the actual process of fracking, but it is as much all the industry – diesel generators, lorries running up and down roads, and all the stuff used to support it,” said Prof Paul Monks, at the University of Leicester and chair of the AQEG.

The report’s conclusion remains valid three years on, he said: “That hasn’t changed. If you have any industrial process at a local level you are going to get an impact on air quality.” Some estimates of the size of the UK’s future fracking industry in the report reach 12,500 wells. “If you increase the amount of wells you are bound to broadly increase [pollution],” Monks said.

Sitting on a report until after giving fracking the go-ahead hardly inspires trust in the government,” said Connor Schwartz, at Friends of the Earth. “If research is carried out, it should be promptly released.” The most recent government polling shows just 18% of the public support fracking.

“Air pollution is already a public health crisis that cuts 40,000 lives short every year and this report is yet more evidence of why we shouldn’t start fracking,” said Schwartz.

“This Tory government has been dragged through the courts three times because of their failure to tackle illegal air pollution, but they’re still taking a cavalier approach to this public health emergency,” said Hayman.

The earlier government report that found fracking could cause house prices to fall was heavily redacted when a Freedom of Information request forced its release in 2014. The full report was only published a year later after a ruling by the Information Commissioner.

It emerged in 2016 that ministers had deliberately delayed the release of the full report until after the crucial decisions had been made by Lancashire county council (LCC) on planning applications to frack, representing “dirty tricks of the highest order”, according to an LCC councillor.”

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/aug/02/buried-uk-government-report-finds-fracking-increases-air-pollution

[Tory] “Council invested in fracking company behind controversial planning approval”

“A council which gave planning permission for a controversial scheme to bring fracking to North Yorkshire had at the time of the decision pensions investments in one of the companies set to benefit – the US oil giant, Halliburton.

The Conservative-led North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) gave the green light for exploratory drilling by Third Energy UK Gas Ltd at Kirby Misperton in May 2016. In turn, Third Energy UK Gas Ltd signed a contract with Halliburton “to support its onshore development activities”.

That same year the council – through its North Yorkshire Pension Fund (NYPF) – had £572,000 invested in Halliburton. North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) has since jettisoned its stake. However, it still invests in fracking concerns.

Conflict and injustice

Elaine Williams, a spokesperson for NYCC, told The Ecologist: “We appoint fund managers for North Yorkshire County Council’s pension fund and they determine which investments to buy and sell – decisions which are outside of the council’s day to day control.

“The pension fund committee is completely separate to the county council’s planning committee. The pension fund committee is charged with delivering value to members of the pension fund, independent of council business.”

The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (JRCT), which is a stakeholder in the NYPF, has called for the council to review its investment policies. The trust is an admitted member of the scheme – it has taken on some council responsibilities where transferred staff still have pensions managed by the council.

Susannah Swinton, operations manager at JRCT, said: “The trust has raised the issue of ethical and responsible investment with NYPF. We are currently an admitted member of the North Yorkshire Pension Fund, which is part of the Local Government Pension scheme. Decisions on the fund’s investment policy and strategy are the responsibility of NYCCPF and are not under the control of JRCT.”

In 2014, JRCT – the philanthropic Quaker group funding people who address the root causes of conflict and injustice – was one of 17 of the world’s largest funds to say they would divest from fossil fuels and reinvest their money in clean energy.”

https://theecologist.org/2018/may/23/special-investigation-council-invested-fracking-company-behind-controversial-planning

“Stampede to build homes threatens the rights of locals”

Article by Andrew Motion, President, CPRE in today’s Times (pay wall):

In launching the revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) last month, the communities secretary Sajid Javidpromised “a continued emphasis on development that’s sustainable and led locally”. Was he really talking about the same NPPF that, for the past five years, has forced wholly unsustainable development on communities already struggling with overstretched infrastructure and shrinking green spaces?

Initial analysis of the revisions by the Campaign to Protect Rural England shows that there is still not enough emphasis on a plan-led system such as the one that has been a cornerstone of our local democracy since 1947. We are calling for the final version to give a cast-iron guarantee that locally agreed development plans (including neighbourhood plans) should be upheld when deciding planning applications. It is the only way to restore communities’ faith in neighbourhood planning.

Local volunteers spend a great deal of time and effort in promoting good development, assessing housing needs and negotiating sites that respect settlement boundaries and preserve valued green spaces. So it is deeply disheartening that the revised NPPF could allow local authorities to overrule neighbourhood plans, either when local plans are reviewed (every five years) or if not enough homes are delivered elsewhere.

Communities across England are being targeted by parasitic “land promoters” who speculate on their ability to shoehorn large, expensive homes on to greenfield sites. In many cases the financial might of these companies allows them to steamroller councils in the appeals process, where the NPPF’s current “presumption in favour of sustainable development” provides the necessary loophole.

If it’s hard to achieve democratic decisions with respect to housing, the situation threatens to become even worse with fracking. The majority of recent applications have been decisively rejected by local authorities, yet the revised NPPF forces local authorities not only to place great weight on the supposed benefits of fracking for the economy, but also to recognise the benefits for “energy security” and “supporting a low-carbon transition”. This misguided emphasis can only lead to more travesties like January’s approval for oil exploration by West Sussex county council, in the face of 2,739 letters of objection (and 11 in support).

We must have new housing and infrastructure, but it remains vitally important that development benefits those who have to live with it. Now more than ever, we need to put people at the heart of the planning system.”

“FIFTY police officers sent to a few dozen aging protesters”

”They drink tea, eat cake and from time to time burst into song.
The few dozen, predominantly retired, professionals at this very English protest hardly add up to a formidable force.

But on the fracking front line police are taking no chances.

At a time when forces up and down the country complain that they are struggling to cope because of budget cuts, North Yorkshire Police are facing accusations of mounting a ‘disproportionate’ and expensive show of strength.

Usually outnumbering – and certainly outmuscling – the grey-haired demonstrators, up to 50 police officers at a time are dealing with the protest.

The start of work to prepare for fracking at the Third Energy well at Kirby Misperton, near Pickering, has prompted the protests.

This week 12 people have been arrested, mainly for obstruction of the highway or a police officer.

Many of the protesters are pensioners who gather daily outside the site gates cum rain, cum shine to express their displeasure. They fear fracking – the controversial method of mining for gas and oil – poses a threat to this beautiful and unspoilt rural area. …

On Thursday around 30 were walking up the path to deal with protesters, although up to 50 are on site. Anyone who sits on the road to try to block the entrance gate risks being picked up by a uniformed officers and arrested. The trucks are escorted on to the site by two patrol cars and a police van packed with officers.

Sue Gough, 62, a retired teacher, said: ‘I have never protested before in my life. It is awful the way the policing has escalated. One of us was chased through Kirby Misperton by police and all he was doing was riding his bike.’
Jackie Brooks, 77, a great grandmother, was serving tea and cake from a stall beside the gates where protesters sang songs and strummed guitars. The former nurse said: ‘I don’t want this beautiful countryside poisoned by the chemicals they use.’

Another protester was Annabel Holt, 76, daughter of war hero Lieutenant Colonel Percy Legard, commander of the No 4 Commando strike force. ‘My father fought to save Britain from 1939 to 1945 and would have been against fracking,’ she said. ‘He fought for his country and I’m trying to do the same.’

Monica Gripaios, 66, claimed the force used by police has been ‘utterly disproportionate to the mood and actions of the peacefully assembled people’.

This week police have been dealing with between 30 and 60 protesters. Nine have been charged and a further two have accepted cautions. They include an 18-year-old woman, who has been charged with assaulting two officers.

Police insist they are acting responsibly. Superintendent Lindsey Robson said: ‘We have a duty to ensure people who want to assemble and protest do so safely, balanced against a duty to ensure that businesses can go about their lawful commercial activity.’

This week one of the country’s top officers warned that the police service is under unsustainable pressure due to the resources required to fight terrorism.

Sara Thornton, head of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, warned that officer numbers are at 1985 levels, crime is up 10 per cent on last year and police work has become ‘ever more complex’.

John Dewar, of Third Energy, said: ‘We look forward to running a safe and successful operation [at the site] that will be carried out with minimal impact on local residents and the environment.’

… When a lorry arrives, about every half hour at peak times, police advance up the remote country lane towards the protesters and force them on to the verge.”

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4911634/FIFTY-police-officers-sent-dozen-aging-protesters.html