Sometimes, as an environmental researcher, there are things which you come across which are completely awful. Events or incidents for which knowing, or telling through reports is not enough…
they require action.
In this page I will examine the events of the 5th March 2015 – the day I decided to arrest the Cabinet – and the evidence behind it.
For more information on the report at the heart of this process, goto the Fracktured Accountability page.
In order to document the proceedings of the day I invited a small group of film-makers and journalists to cover the event. This short film is a collaboration between Gathering Place Films (@NinaTailor2) and Clear Blue Films (@indyrikki).
You can find other coverage of the day here:
I've had so much positive feedback as a result of my 'day out' in London. Quite a bit seemed to relate to how happy and calm I was – and how was that possible in the circumstances?
It's due to three factors:
And yes, OK, being a Quaker probably does have a little something to do with that too.
The road to Downing Street begins in this photograph, taken in December 2012.
Swalcliffe Grange, December 2012
At this point I'd been working on "fracking" for 3½ years – and had hit an impasse. I went for a walk early one foggy frosty morning to clear my head; to the top of a local ridge which, coincidently, had been previously identified in Government reports as having coal seams beneath it suitable for underground coal gasification.
I did not decide to "arrest the Cabinet" on that day. However, given the likely probabilities, I had to accept – all other options failing to archive progress – that such action might be required.
What troubled me at that point was David Cameron's recent speech to the CBI conference.
The whole 'shale gas' project had started under New Labour in the early 2000s, and had been launched, with no fanfare or recognition, under the 13th On-shore Oil and Gas Licensing Round. It was putting that together with information I was receiving from the USA which led me to start looking at 'fracking' in 2009.
That project was picked up under the Coalition Government and given a huge boost. Not only that, what David Cameron outlined in his speech to the CBI was nothing less than a commitment to dictating policy, irrespective of whether it might infringe the law –
Consultations, impact assessments, audits, reviews, stakeholder management, securing professional buy-in, complying with EU procurement rules, assessing sector feedback this is not how we became one of the most powerful, prosperous nations on earth.
It's not how you get things done... So I am determined to change this... Here's how:
Cutting back on judicial reviews.
Reducing government consultations.
Streamlining European legislation.
Stopping the gold-plating of legislation at home...
We have smart people in Whitehall who consider equalities issues while they're making the policy. We don't need all this extra tick-box stuff...
But the truth is, Whitehall has become too risk-averse, too willing to say 'no' instead of 'yes'.
There are understandable reasons for that. When you have lobby groups lined up to criticise every action you take and Parliamentary Select Committees ready to jump on every bump in the road, then the rational choice is to be cautious – even over-cautious. But for the sake of our country's progress we have got to cut through this.
When this country was at war in the 40s, Whitehall underwent a revolution. Normal rules were circumvented. Convention was thrown out. As one historian put it, everything was thrown at the overriding purpose of beating Hitler.
Well, this country is in the economic equivalent of war today – and we need the same spirit. We need to forget about crossing every 't' and dotting every 'i' and we need to throw everything we've got at winning in this global race.
If you have evidence, then the above might be justified. Trouble was, in late 2012, it was clear that the body of available evidence was swinging away from the Government and towards the very 'lobby groups' who were highlighting the dangers of this policy.
However, proving that the Government were wrong, certainly to a standard where it could be relied upon in court, was another matter!
This issue of 'proof' has been the focus of my work since the beginning of 2013 – not chasing the individual hot spots of action such as Lancashire or Balcombe (though I know from the feedback, the protectors on the line in those places have found the information I produce really useful).
Since that day people have asked why I haven't put more effort into getting media coverage.
The most important thing about this day was not media coverage; it was not about getting arrested either (although that was going to be the obvious outcome). It was that the process should be lawful – which meant careful planning and implementation of the legal process.
The reason I went to arrest three Cabinet members was that I really honestly wanted to arrest them, and have them formally investigated for 'misconduct'.
Their actions were, in my view, breaking the law – with the potential to create an imminent threat to the well-being of the state and the public if they were allowed to proceed unabated. We can't allow politicians to get away with what would be, for people in other professions, the equivalent of serious disciplinary or potentially criminal offences.
Now, I'm going to say this in bold, just to make the point – you can't just walk up to someone and arrest them because you don't like them, you have to have evidence of a criminal offence. (so, please, don't try and copy me without a severe period of homework first!)
That's why it took over two years to gather the evidence.
Having a good enough reason for arrest begins with evidence – contrary to David Cameron's project outlined above – that the Government's failure to consult, making judicial review harder to get, and proceeding with 'fracking' irrespective of any evidence of its harms, was unlawful. This is all detailed in the Fracktured Accountability report.
In fact, when I went to Downing Street, that report was still in an early draft form because I hadn't had the time to finish it. In my view action was needed immediately, and there was no time to produced a polished, proof-read text. Although I'd decided that this might have to be a fall-back option in December 2012, and that the 'imminence' issue was pressing in early February 2015, it was not until a week before that I finally decided it was 'necessary' because of the new information emerging.
Next, you can't arrest anyone for anything. It has to be an indictable offence. The offence of Misconduct in Public Office is an indictable offence, with a potential maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Finally, you can't just go and arrest someone arbitrarily. If there is a policeman present, you have to report the offence first – and only if they fail to act does that give a person the right to effect the arrest themselves.
That morning in Whitehall the police initially failed to act. Then, when I was persistent, they did come and take my report – and have logged it as a formal complaint, with my report treated as evidence, which should be investigated as a crime (no word on the result yet).
The problem was they refused to take immediate action, which in my view risked the Government undertaking further damaging and expensive actions before any investigation could be concluded. That's why I continued to press for immediate action – which is what ultimately led to my arrest in order to remove me from the scene.
I was arrested under the The City of Westminster (Prescribed Routes) (no.8) Traffic Order 2008, a.k.a the Downing Street and Whitehall Anti-Terrorism Traffic Order. This prohibits anyone to be in the area around Downing Street without the permission of a policeman.
As far as I can tell, given I can't find any any 'stopping up' order to the contrary, technically Downing Street is still a public right of way. Arguably the local authority's roads order is on conflict with both the law of the highway, and the reasonable exercise of police powers under the various anti-terror acts. Moreover, given that a serious offence was taking place, in my view my use of the road to find the culprits and apprehend them was lawful.
I was not charged. It wasn't even a recordable offence, so the police still don't have my fingerprints and DNA. After five peaceful hours reading my book in Charring Cross Police Station I was released (I actually asked if they could delay by ten minutes so I could finish it!, but they wanted shot of me). The only testing time was food; their idea of 'vegan' was microwaved baked beans with potato wedges.
It has been reported to the Magistrate's Court, which means at some point I'll get a summons; or they'll let it drop because they don't want the hassle.
What happens next? I'm not bothered. Right now there's plenty of more work to do on this issue; and arguably that might be worsened if the election produces a manically pro-fracking party in charge. If a summons turns up I will contest it. Until then, it's back to the keyboard to document the 'fracktured accountability' at the heart of our governmental processes.