Women stood on fuel tanker and brought oil depot to standstill in eco protest, court told

Three women accused of climbing onto a fuel tanker in an environmental protest and bringing a West Midlands oil depot to a standstill for 11 hours, have appeared in court.

The Esso depot at Wood Lane, Birmingham. Photo: Google
The Esso depot at Wood Lane, Birmingham. Photo: Google

The trio have all pleaded not guilty to obstructing or disrupting lawful activity in relation to a protest at an Esso depot at Wood Lane in Birmingham last April.

Ruth Lanser, 26, Abigail Percy-Ratcliff, 23, and Hannah Torrence-Bright, 41, are on trial at Wolverhampton Magistrates' Court, accused of disrupting lawful activity by climbing onto a fuel tanker and sitting on top of it at about 5.10am on April 3 last year.

District Judge Graham Wilkinson heard on Monday from witnesses including driver Liam Barrett, who described driving a Sainsbury's fuel tanker onto the depot site as planned on April 3 and being "ambushed" by people emerging from out of sight nearby and approaching his vehicle while he was driving slowly on the site.

Under questioning from prosecuting counsel Mr Mark Fielding, he described feeling "intimidated" at seeing people climb onto his tanker.

He described approaching a protester who he said was "letting down" his tyres and telling them to stop. The women on trial are not accused of damaging the tanker.

Ms Rosalind Burgin, who is representing the defendant Ruth Lanser, asked him whether those were "the actions of someone who felt intimidated and ambushed".

Photos shown to the court during the trial show a Just Stop Oil banner draped from the top of the Sainsbury's fuel tanker.

The trial also heard from project engineer Ian King, who said that when the protest began shortly after 5am, the site was put in a state of "shutdown" that lasted for 11 hours while the protesters were present at the depot.

Superintendent Sally Churchill of West Midlands Police was called to give evidence and said that she arrived at the depot at about 8.30am on the day of the protest.

She said the female defendants were on top of the tanker and she asked them to come down "at least three times", only for them to respond "with amusement".

"[I tried] to encourage them to continue their protest but do it lawfully," she said.

The court heard that two of the women on top of the tanker did come down of their own accord via a ladder provided by the protest response unit, while the third was brought down in a sling by the responders.

Lanser, Percy-Ratcliff, both of no fixed abode, and Torrence-Bright, of Albert Avenue in Glasgow, deny obstructing or disrupting lawful activity and the trial continues.

A fourth defendant, Jake Handling, 27 and of Mains Drive in Dundee, is also accused of obstructing or disrupting lawful activity by sitting on a fuel silo in the same incident. He did not attend court on Monday and evidence is being heard in his absence.

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