Lancaster councillor has ‘no regrets’ after fracking protest guilty verdict

Lancashire County Councillor Gina Dowding, fourth from left, outside Blackpool Magistrates Court.
Lancashire County Councillor Gina Dowding, fourth from left, outside Blackpool Magistrates Court.

A Lancaster politician said she has “no regrets” after being found guilty of obstructing the highway during a fracking protest.

Lancashire County Councillor Gina Dowding was given a 12 month conditional discharge and ordered to pay a £250 fine following a trial at Blackpool Magistrates Court.

Gina Dowding "locked on" at the fracking site

Gina Dowding "locked on" at the fracking site

She was one of 12 people, including two other councillors, who “locked on” to barrels and pipes outside fracking company Cuadrilla’s site in Preston New Road in July.

The group were also accused of preventing workers from going about their business, but were found not guilty as no evidence was submitted by Cuadrilla.

But despite being “disappointed” about having a criminal record, Coun Dowding said she would continue to do what she had to, as she believed she had a mandate from electors.

She said: “Our intention was to raise awareness about fracking.

Anti fracking protestors and their supporters at Blackpool Magistrates Court.  Coun Gina Dowding.

Anti fracking protestors and their supporters at Blackpool Magistrates Court. Coun Gina Dowding.

“I’ve got a mandate as an elected member to try and express the wishes of the people of Lancaster and the wider Lancashire area.

“I’ve had more correspondence from people in my division about fracking than on any other issue, so I’ve absolutely no regrets.

“It’s clear that other democratic processes have failed.”

In 2015, Lancashire County Council rejected Cuadrilla’s application to test drill at the site, but the decision was overturned by the government.

There have been months of protest outside the site at Little Plumpton, several of which have led to arrests.

Lancaster City Councillors Caroline Jackson, along with former city coun Emily Heath, and retired NHS manager Mollie Foxhall, were also arrested following protests in August.

They face trial at Lancaster Magistrates Court on December 14.

Coun Dowding, who represents Lancaster Central, said: “The judge allowed us to express why we took the action, and my main concern is that this government is talking about taking action on climate change, but doing the exact opposite.

“The judge said that the fracking industry and the government are not on trial, but I think they are on trial.

“They’re just not listening to all the evidence out there that fracking is polluting and dangerous, and that climate change needs action right now.

“I will continue doing what I have to do because I feel that the situation is urgent.

“The democratic wish of the people is being ignored, so I will do everything I can to continue to raise awareness and to send a message to the government that they need to change their policy, and stop supporting the fossil fuel industry with tax breaks and subsidies and giving them a smooth ride, while on the other hand making life harder for the renewable energy industry by continually changing the processes and support.

“The government is harming our economy because other European countries are just getting on with it.

“We could be world leaders. We’ve got the geography and the technology for wind and wave power.”

A Cuadrilla spokeswoman told the BBC that the energy firm had “no objection to peaceful, law-abiding protest but illegal obstructions... have caused immense inconvenience and disruption”.

She added: “Elected councillors breaking the law should not be acceptable”.

Coun Dowding said she was relieved that the trial was over.

“Despite the result I’ve had great support,” she said.

“I’m disappointed to find myself with a criminal record, but I had some wonderful testimonials in court.

“My co-defendants took a brave step which has damaged their reputation, but they did it for the right reasons.

“Everyone had tried to do other things, people from a diverse range of backgrounds have come together to fight this.

“The anti-fracking movement is growing all the time, and as soon as people hear about the risks, they are so willing to get involved because they realise how important this is.”