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Arresting behaviour: smiling rambler turns warrior of justice

Paul Mobbs at Downing Street

Paul Mobbs shows his 'web of influence' map to police at Downing Street. © Jamie Kelsey Fry

A small group gathers outside Westminster tube station in London. It is Thursday 5 March, and we are here at the request of environmental researcher and author Paul Mobbs. This smiling rambler from Banbury is kitted out in walking boots, khaki shorts and a colourful shirt. An unlikely avenging warrior of justice, perhaps, but then, you haven’t met Paul Mobbs before, or read his research.

Our group consists of three filmmakers, a journalist and a scientist. Mobbs explains that he has called us so that we can witness and document his attempt to make a citizen’s arrest of four members of the Cabinet in Downing Street, for misconduct in public office with regards to their connection to the fracking industry. None of us bat an eyelid; we all know him well. All of us are aware of his profound knowledge on the subject and the wide-reaching respect people have for him, as well as his unique and inspiring take on activism and the fact that he is a dedicated Quaker.

Paul Mobbs has spent the past six years researching onshore extreme extraction techniques, particularly high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. He has published his work often and has provided presentations on fracking to communities across Britain. Significantly, the shale industry regularly adds him to panels discussing fracking as well.

Mobbs’ reports on onshore unconventional extraction are comprehensive bodies of research, dissecting what can seem to be a carefully constructed propaganda blitzkrieg emanating from governmental and corporate bodies that have become so entwined that at times it has been difficult to tell them apart. Mobbs created a map depicting this ‘web of influence’ between industry and government in 2013 that quickly became ubiquitous in the anti-fracking movement. Fracking seemed to be a glaring example of a government that has no interest in the well-being or democratic concerns of the public and has only the interest of big business within their considerations.    

Mobbs reminds us that Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech to the Confederation of British Industry in 2012 began a process whereby business could be more streamlined by limiting the capacity for judicial reviews, limiting the ability for the public to call for reviews and slashing the amount of time required for consultations. Cameron said that he wanted to ‘eliminate bureaucratic rubbish’ because ‘frankly, we need this buccaneering, deal-making, hungry spirit now more than ever.’

This buccaneering spirit has resulted in the fracking industry being pushed through without any genuine recourse to seeking a social mandate or, in fact, paying any heed to the mounting bodies of evidence, including the government’s own reports, that show fracking to have severe potential risks to health and environment.

Now Mobbs pulls out his latest, far more developed ‘web of influence’ that he is publishing today. The map details a situation in which the wishes of industry are so well represented within government that neither genuine democracy nor even the remotest doubt as to the wisdom in the dash for fracked gas are able to be part of any decision-making. He gives as an example a letter from Chancellor George Osborne that shows how politicians are being advised to fast-track fracking and to respond to the ‘asks’ of drilling company Cuadrilla.

We proceed to Downing Street and watch as Mobbs reports a crime and asks the armed police on the gate duty to make an arrest for him. His good nature and clear arguments eventually see three officers carefully listening to his arguments for two hours. Despite Paul’s arguments being faultless, the officers finally state that they are only responsible for ensuring safety for those in Downing Street and cannot effect an arrest themselves. This gives Mobbs legal recourse to then insist on making the arrest himself, at which the gate duty, who has clearly come to like him, shows dismay. Eventually, Mobbs is arrested around 3pm under a highways section of the Terrorism Act and taken to Charring Cross station where he is kept until around 10pm. He is then released, having being charged with what he later says is not dissimilar to a parking fine.

Fracking looks like a war on democracy, so toxic that the government sees it as a vote loser and wants to keep the new licensing round out of the public until after the election. But a serious crime has been reported and it is now the duty of the police to investigate this crime. The fact that they have been provided with ample documentation and evidence has been well recorded. The smiling rambler may well prove to be the warrior of justice after all.

Follow Jamie on twitter: @JamieKelseyFry

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