Protester claims councillors should not have been involved in decision to take him to court

A man being prosecuted over putting anti-fracking signs on his land has claimed six councillors should not have been involved in making the decision to take him to court.

Thursday, 14th April 2016, 3:16 pm
Updated Monday, 25th April 2016, 1:44 pm
John Tootill near his home in Westby

Barrister Richard Wald told Blackpool Magistrates Court that some of the councillors – sitting on the planning committee of Fylde Borough Council have interests in gas drilling firm Cuadrilla.

John Tootill, 63, has pleaded not guilty to to breaching the Town and Country Planning Act by putting up signs which included the slogan “Frack Off”.

Mr Wald provided District Judge Jane Goodwin with the names of councillors Trevor Fiddler, Tom Threlfall, Ben Aitken, Albert Pounder, Heather Speak and Maxine Chew.

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Some of the councillors are against the fracking process themselves.

The barrister argued that for Fylde Council to proceed with a prosecution would, in the circumstances, be an abuse of process.

He said: “The decision to prosecute was taken at the end of the meeting in July 2015 at which members of the public were excluded.”

“The seven all have connections with Cuadrilla which they admitted to at a previous meeting in July 2014.

“The Fylde Council Code of Conduct for Members has clear guidance on prejudicial interests of councillors and was breached in this case.”

“The councillors’ failure to declare their connections and absent themselves from the meeting is clearly relevant to the decision to prosecute and renders the decision to do sounsafe.”

“It ought to offend the court’s sense of justice that those with connections to the fracking development company are permitted to participate in a decision to prosecute Mr Tootill.”

“The case has taken a toll on my client who believes the decision to take him to court was not made on a sound basis.”

The court heard that Fylde Council will argue that its decision to prosecute was not made on fracking but is to do with the posting of adverts.

The case brought by the council was adjourned by the judge until May 19 before which the council and Tootill’s legal team must provide written arguments about the claimed abuse of process by the council.