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Fracking giant fails to lock up a grandmother

United Kingdom
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Tina Louise Rothery outside Preston Combined Court on Friday morning. © Jamie Kelsey-Fry

Far from frightening off the campaigners by taking one of them to court, Cuadrilla has given them a boost, writes Jamie Kesley-Fry.

For anyone wanting to understand how destructive and devious corporations can be, the fracking industry in the UK is an ideal test case. Strategies have included the vilification of academics who challenge the assertion that fracking is safe; the abuse of police powers at the expense of protesters’ civil liberties; the inevitable revolving door between the energy industry and parliament; withholding and redacting critical reports; an astonishing PR blitzkrieg; and the use of astroturf organizations paid for by the industry.

Knowing the depths to which the corporations and their partners in parliament have already sunk in order to force through the deeply unpopular industry, it should have been no surprise that Cuadrilla UK, one of the key fracking companies, would see fit to try to send a grandmother to prison. But the hundreds of people who gathered outside Preston Combined Court on Friday morning were deeply shocked that even Cuadrilla actually would stoop so low.

Tina Louise Rothery was facing prison due to the company’s legal wrangling. Her real ‘crime’ (and one she is proud of) is that she has been a thorn in Cuadrilla’s side ever since she began protesting, after the company was responsible for causing a series of minor earthquakes in 2011.

Rothery is the perfect nemesis for the kind of reckless capitalism that fracking embodies. Far from being hardened frontline activists or stereotypical leftists or anarchists, she and her ‘knitting nannas’ like tea, cake and going to see their grandchildren in school plays. What they don’t like is bullies seeking to profit by creating major threats to the environment and to the well-being of the community. Listen to Rothery or any of the other yellow-and-black clad nannas, and you are listening to the majority view: not the marginal, but the mainstream. The only thing that makes them different is that a fracking firm is set to drill near where they live, so they have looked into the truth behind this profoundly destructive extraction technique and have been galvanized into taking action.

Before going into court, Rothery gave a moving speech in which she thanked Cuadrilla ‘for showing us who you really are [and] for the amazing network that grew as a result of their action against me.’ Referencing the corporate media’s propensity for ignoring the anti-fracking struggle and obfuscating the truth about it, she added: ‘Another thing we have to thank Cuadrilla for is the advance of independent media… amazing investigative journalism that you can trust, that is honest and true, done without bias and without influence and with no pension partners invested in the energy industry.’

This is a real David and Goliath story, not only in the way that huge energy corporations, with their armies of compliant politicians and their blitzkrieg of PR propaganda, are struggling to crush dissent, but also in the way that mass movements against corporate power are growing and linking up globally and beginning to find success.

Related: Fracking – four things you need to know

In the five years of Britain’s anti-fracking movement, people have become increasingly cogent in their understanding of the ways in which corporate power works against the well-being of people. Around the fires at anti-fracking camps, people now discuss the revolving door of politics, the nefarious connivance between ‘bought’ academics and the corporations that fund them, and the role of corporate media. These conversations are becoming increasingly common among people from all walks of life and across the political spectrum, as is the palpable sense of betrayal that inevitably ensues.

Later on Friday afternoon, to riotous cheers, the announcement came that Rothery’s case was being dropped. Cuadrilla and its lawyers had failed to have this grandmother imprisoned, and instead of breaking her spirit and discouraging others from standing up against them, they had given a huge boost to the movement and shed more light on the moral and ethical vacuum at the heart of the fracking industry. In an impromptu speech, Rothery highlighted how the reprehensible behaviour of Cuadrilla underlined the importance of the movement remaining morally sound, based on nonviolence and compassion. And, she added, ‘I will never stop.’