Possession Proceedings: Anti-Fracking Protestors and Declaratory Relief

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Wensley and Others v Persons Unknown and Others [2014] EWHC 3086 (Ch)

This case concerned a claim for possession of property and injunctive relief against anti-fracking protestors who had been occupying land belonging to some of the claimants as part of their protests. A number of the other claimants owned land which it was anticipated the protestors might target at a future date.

The First and Second Claimants, who owned land which was currently occupied by the protestors, were granted an order for possession and declaratory relief. All of the claimants were granted injunctions restraining future trespass over their land, even though the defendants could not be identified by name.

The land occupied by the protestors formed part of a farm, Plumpton Hall, owned by the Wensley family (the First and Second Claimants). The Fourth Claimant, Cuadrilla Bowland Limited, was part of the Cuadrilla group of companies which carries on business exploring for, and extracting, natural gas and oil by the process known as ‘fracking’. Cuadrilla had been granted a licence, on a non-exclusive basis, to occupy parts of Plumpton Hall in connection with those activities. The other Claimants all owned land in close proximity to Plumpton Hall. There was also evidence that the protestors were taking preliminary steps to trespass upon another farm, Roseacre Hall Farm, about four miles away. Roseacre Hall Farm was owned by the Tenth and Eleventh Claimants. The Twelfth Claimant, Cuadrilla Elswick Limited, had been granted a licence to occupy parts of Roseacre Hall Farm, also for exploratory and fracking purposes. There was at the time no planning permission to explore for gas or to carry out fracking at either farm but planning applications were pending.

The Claimants sought:

  1. An order for possession of the land which had been occupied;
  2. Injunctive relief preventing further trespass upon the land which had been occupied, the remainder of Plumpton Hall, the neighbouring land owned by the Fifth to Ninth Claimants, and the land at Roseacre Hall Farm;
  3. Declaratory relief; and
  4. In the event that the Claimants were able to discover individual protestors’ names, costs and damages for trespass.

Relying on the previous case of Hampshire Waste Services Limited v Intending Trespassers upon Chineham Incinerator Site [2003], the High Court was willing to grant an interim injunction effectively against the whole of the world. This prevented anyone from entering or remaining on the Claimants’ land in connection with anti-fracking, environmental or similar protests or events, by granting the injunction against persons identified only by a description, rather than a name.

The Claimants had also sought declarations as to their entitlement to possession of the various parcels of land of which they were registered proprietors. They had sought to rely on the Supreme Court decision in Secretary of State for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs v Meier and another [2009] UKSC 11, as the basis for their entitlement to declarations in possession proceedings in relation to land not currently occupied by the protestors. The High Court held that such declaratory relief to this effect could only be made in relation to land not currently occupied by trespassers if the land belonged to Claimants who were also being granted an order for possession in respect of occupied land. Therefore only the Wensleys were entitled to declaratory relief.