Balcombe; Protestors in Court

The daughter of Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde and a former page 3 girl turned politician were among 14 people who pleaded not guilty to causing disruption during protests against fracking.

Natalie Hynde, 30, and Marina Baker, 45, appeared at Crawley Magistrates' Court charged in connection with campaigning which has been taking place in Balcombe, West Sussex, for more than two weeks against energy company Cuadrilla, which is carrying out exploratory drilling for oil.

Fracking involves high pressure liquid being pumped deep underground to split shale rock and release gas supplies, which could potentially cause water contamination, small-scale earthquakes and environmental damage, according to opponents.

Hynde, from St Leonards on Sea, East Sussex, appeared alongside Simon Medhurst, 55, from Hastings, charged under Section 241 of the Trade Union Labour Relations Act for attempting to stop drivers and other workers from accessing the site on July 31.

Baker, from Lewes, is charged with willfully obstructing a highway on July 29.

Adriano Merola, 23, from Brighton, faces the same charge.

Ben Lucas, 21, from Preston, and Rhonda Mathew, 61, from High Wycombe, are charged under Section 241 of the Trade Union Labour Relations Act for attempting to stop drivers and other workers from accessing the site on July 29.

Teacher Frances Crack, 31, from Cardiff, Samantha Duncan, 29, from Brighton, circus employee Ezra Lynch, 31, from Lewes, Mark Mansbridge, 51, a voluntary charity worker from Lewes, East Sussex, Richard Millar, 29, from Brighton, Justin Preece, from Mid Glamorgan, Nancy Walker, 25, from London, and Marcin Swiercz, 35, a handyman from London, are also all charged under Section 241 of the Trade Union Labour Relations Act for attempting to stop drivers and other workers from accessing the site on July 26.

They are alleged to have placed a log in the road, blocking access to the site, and to have refused to move it, the court heard.

The defendants were joined by about 30 supporters in the public gallery and dozens outside at the court today.

Prosecutor Brian Noel asked for the case to be adjourned until October 2 when a district judge will be available to preside over proceedings.

Lydia Dagostino, defending, asked that all those charged be excused from the next court hearing.

She said there were other defendants coming up on August 21 and 28 and added: "It will become unmanageable if we have 30-plus defendants in court.''

Sussex Police and the Crown Prosecution Service asked magistrates to impose a bail condition on all defendants banning them from entering the parish of Balcombe, except from when travelling through the area on the London to Brighton railway line.

Pc Michael Wyborn said police had become aware of a climate camp planning to move to the Balcombe area from the north of the country.

He told the court officers were expecting between 250 and 1,000 people in the area.

He said: "They intend to hold a general meeting in the Balcombe area and tend to publicise their causes by media.''

Ms Dagostino said: "These conditions are completely disproportionate and oppressive and a clear breach of the right to protest.''

Supporters sitting in the public gallery clapped and cheered as magistrate Michael Milne released all the defendants on unconditional bail.

He said: "I do not believe the police have given us sufficient grounds that they will commit further offences if they return to Balcombe.''

He said the bench had taken into account the defendants' good character and did not believe they would incite others to commit violence.

The case was adjourned until October 2 for a pre-trial review at Crawley Magistrates' Court when a trial date will be set.

Protestors Callie and Brenda

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