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Legal bid to evict fracking protesters put on hold

Protesters at Barton Moss will have more time to prepare their defence. Photo: PA

A bid to evict protesters from a controversial fracking site has been put on hold by a court.

Corporate giant Peel Investments had applied for possession of its land at Barton Moss in Salford where around 60 protesters have set up camp.

The land is being leased to IGas, a firm carrying out exploratory drilling to see if gas extraction by fracking can be done there.

But since November anti-fracking groups have gathered in protest, disrupting work being done at the site with police making a series of arrests for public order offences.

Police say patrolling the site has cost taxpayers £700,000 to date.

Peel, a giant real estate company, served notice to the protesters, handing out letters at the camp, on Tuesday saying they were going to the High Court in Manchester in a bid to have them removed for trespass once and for all.

But lawyers working for free for the protesters successfully argued the case should be adjourned until March 6 so they can prepare a defence case.

Peel Investment want protesters off what they claim is 'their land'. Credit: PA

Around 30 protesters in court clapped Judge David Hodge QC as he granted the adjournment following two hours of legal argument.

Katharine Holland QC, for Peel, said IGas was being denied the lawful "free enjoyment of their rights" by protesters, occupying land as trespassers and obstructing lorries going to and from the site.

She claimed the situation was "escalating" and causing increasing problems for the public and police, including health and safety issues over sanitation at the camp - a series of tents and old caravans lining the dirt road up to the drilling site.

"Right to peaceful protest does not override my client's right to recover possession of land necessary because of the escalating situation occurring," she told the judge.

But Lindsay Johnson, acting for the protesters, said they should be given more time to contest the eviction, citing potential breaches of their Human Rights.

He said the defence case may rely on the protesters' human rights to freedom of assembly and freedom to protest.

Mr Johnson said one of the protesters claimed he lived at the camp and had no other home and it may be argued eviction would infringe his rights under Article Eight of the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides a right to respect for one's "private and family life, his home and his correspondence".

Justice is an inconvenient thing for some,

– Lindsay Johnson, representing Barton Moss Protesters

Adjourning the case to March 6, Judge Hodge said he had to balance the legal rights of IGas and those of the protesters to express themselves and put forward a defence for their actions.

He told the protesters in court that if they wanted to be part of the legal proceedings they must give their names and provide statements.

But he also warned them if they are a party in proceedings - and lost the case on March 6, Peel could then pursue them for legal costs.

Barton Moss is one of a number of sites across the UK where fracking is being done.

While the Government says it is a new energy source with potential to create jobs and wealth, opponents say it will damage the environment.

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