John Tootill with Caroline Lucas at PNR site. Photo:Refracktion

A businessman and leading campaigner against Cuadrilla’s fracking operation near Blackpool has been cleared by a court of obstruction.

John Tootill, who runs Maple Farm Nurseries near Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site, said he was now considering legal action against Lancashire Police.

Mr Tootill was found not guilty by magistrates in Blackpool this afternoon of obstructing a police officer during anti-fracking protests on 1 June 2017. He had denied the offence.

This was the second time Mr Tootill had been arrested near the shale gas site. On the first occasion, on 8 March 2017, he was held in police custody for about 11 hours after being arrested for obstructing the highway. That case against him was dropped before it came to court.

Mr Tootill told DrillOrDrop:

“I will be taking advice about bringing a case against the police for unlawful arrest and false imprisonment

“This is the second time I have been arrested and falsely imprisoned. I believe it has happened to other people on numerous occasions. It seems to be a tactic of dissuading protesters from protesting and exercising their legal rights.”

He added:

“I have obviously suffered from the association of being arrested for criminal offences. The fact that I’ve been vindicated is a wonderful outcome. But if any person hears of someone arrested their view is going to be affected. I’ve suffered the indignities associated with that.”

Mr Tootill’s opposition to Cuadrillla’s operations is obvious from the eye-catching signs outside his nursery and the facilities he offers at Maple Farm to anti-fracking campaign groups.

Photo:Drill or Drop

In 2016, Fylde Borough Council sought to prosecute Mr Tootill for the anti-fracking signs at Maple Farm. It brought 26 charges of unauthorised advertising against him but later dropped the case before it came to court. The council said the prosecution was not in the public interest after fire had destroyed Mr Tootill’s home in Westby.

Mr Tootill said:

“I am a local businessman and I am very openly showing my opposition to the industry.

“All the time, as many police officers would verify, I am also the face of moderation. I encourage good behaviour. It is so disappointing, in spite of this, that the police are still behaving so badly.”

He said he was very relieved at the verdict.

“There is a lot of trauma involved. I was always confident common sense would prevail. But I was fearful of bias against me.

“You know you’ve not done anything wrong. You’ve got your inner confidence but, because of the things you’ve experienced and heard about, it does cause concern.”

Asked if his experience would change his opposition to fracking, Mr Tootill said:

“None whatsoever. If nothing else, it does strengthen your resolve to combat this industry and the influence that it has on democracy.”