An anti-fracking campaigner who climbed on an oil rig lorry when he went to buy a cake from a service station in Sussex has been landed with a criminal record.
Dr Peter Whittick, an activist, academic and writer, who lives in Crawley, was given a 12-month conditional discharge at Brighton Magistrates’ Court today, having been found guilty of hindering a person from driving on their onward journey, at a trial last Tuesday.
Outside of court the 53-year-old, a previous lecturer at the University of Chichester, said he ‘had no regrets’.
He said: “I was disappointed not to be acquitted, but I feel happy that I did the right thing and I will continue to do the right thing to raise awareness of the dangers of onshore gas and oil.
“I have no regrets, we are talking about the future of the land that is at stake, the industrilisation of the Weald and thousands of wells, which to me is a concern.”
Dr Whittick was arrested on September 7, last year, after spending ten hours on an oil rig lorry as an ‘act of conscientious’ when it was parked at Pease Pottage services, near Crawley.
He was spotted on it at 2.30am but refused to get off it in a bid to delay oil well testing, the court heard.
He was charged with hindering rig owner British Drilling and Freezing Ltd, from carrying out its lawful business. The court heard how the lorry was on its way to the Angus Energy oil site at Lidsey, near Bognor, but diverted to Pease Pottage services.
Dr Whittick, who claimed the oil rig lorry was in breach of planning conditions, said he happened to see the lorry when he went to buy a cake from Marks and Spencer, and decided to climb on it.
The lorry had just left the controversial Broadford Bridge exploratory oil well site near Billingshurst, where UK Oil and Gas (UKO) has been exploring for oil since May 2017.
Sentencing Dr Whittick, district judge Christopher James, said: “It is clear Dr Whittick is of good character and is a conscientious man, who wanted to attract the attention of the press to make an end to fracking, but this is not a defence. The driver was not able to continue his job for ten hours, making his total working day 21 hours.
“There was no evidence the vehicle was unroadworthy and there was nothing unlawful about the driving.
“It is clear Dr Whittick’s actions hindered the vehicle from carrying out its lawful business.
“What he did was unreasonable and unlawful and he is guilty of the offence charged.”
Campaigners supported Dr Whittick in court and clapped when the sentence was read out.
After the sentencing, Lorraine Inglis of Weald Action Group, said she was ‘really proud’ of him.
“He does this because he loves the countryside that we live in,” she said.
“He does things from his heart and is of good character. I am disappointed he was found guilty. If we were in the same situation as he was I am sure we would have done the same thing.”
Paula Cooper, a member of Keep Billingshurst Frack Free, said it was a ‘good result’ Dr Whittick was not given a prison sentence.
Kate Kelso-Cross, also a member of Keep Billingshurst Frack Free, said she was ‘grateful’ to Dr Whittick.
“We are grateful to Peter for bringing publicity of fracking, which has got to stop,” she said.
“We believe he should not have been found guilty.”
Jo Brior, an Upper Beeding resident, waited outside the court with her two daughters, Isla, eight, and Maddy, six.
She said: “I am disappointed that Peter was found guilty. I feel incredibly proud of him and for his actions.”
As well as the conditional discharge, Dr Whittick was ordered to pay £105 costs.
A conditional discharge means an offender will not be sentenced for an offence unless a further offence is committed within a stated period. In this case it is 12 months for Dr Whittick.