A High Court judge has issued a warrant for the arrest of a “known tunneller” who is accused of breaching an injunction preventing environmental protesters disrupting work on a 105km-long aviation fuel pipeline.
Activist Scott Breen, 48, is alleged to have “flouted” the terms of a court order requiring him to leave a pit he dug next to the M25 at Runnymede in Surrey in a bid to disrupt the operations of oil company Esso.
On Friday, following a short hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Mrs Justice Heather Williams ordered a bench warrant for his arrest so that Mr Breen can face committal for contempt of court proceedings next week.
Lawyers for Esso argue that Mr Breen should be jailed for his alleged breach of the High Court injunction.
The protester was previously among the group of campaigners who occupied a network of tunnels under a small park next to Euston station in central London in January last year as part of a protest against the HS2 railway line.
The Southampton to London Pipeline project, which received development consent in October 2020, aims to replace 90km of pipe between Boorley Green in Hampshire and Esso’s west London terminal storage facility in Hounslow, near Heathrow Airport.
Replacing the pipeline originally constructed in 1972, it will help keep 100 tankers a day off the road, Esso claims, and is due for completion next year.
The project has been targeted by protesters interfering with equipment and “attacking” it with angle grinders, the court was previously told.
Esso Petroleum Company Limited, owned by ExxonMobil, was granted an interim injunction against Mr Breen and “persons unknown” at a hearing last month.
The company had sought an order only applying to acts “with the intention of preventing or impeding construction of the Southampton to London Pipeline Project”, a judge was told.
Mr Breen had 72 hours to remove himself from the service of the order to him, Mr Justice Eyre said in his August ruling.
Timothy Morshead QC, representing Esso on Friday, said in written submissions that Mr Breen was a “known tunneller” who had a “considerable track record of protest elsewhere, including defiance”.
He said the activist had “flouted that part of the order directed specifically at him by ignoring the requirement that he vacate his excavations”, adding that his presence had prevented contractors progressing with work in the area.
Voluntary attendance is extremely unlikely
Timothy Morshead, QC
The barrister added that Mr Breen had allegedly breached the order and “aggravated his contempt by fortifying his presence” and had “boasted about it to the press”.
Mr Morshead said that if Mr Breen left the Chertsey site to come to court his “fortifications” could be cleared, but added that his “voluntary attendance is extremely unlikely”.
Mr Morshead suggested that “nothing less than a custodial sentence is required” in Mr Breen’s case, adding that “given the aggravating factors, a term in the region of six months’ imprisonment is appropriate”.
Annabel Timan, representing Mr Breen, who was understood to still be at the site at the time of the hearing, said in written submissions that he wished to comply with the injunction order and engage with the court.
She said he “undertakes” to leave the premises within 72 hours of receiving legal advice – by Sunday – and asked for time to remove all his belongings.
Ms Timan said Mr Breen was “motivated by deeply held beliefs” and did not accept he had breached the part of the injunction ordering him to leave “any and every excavation” within 72 hours of its service.
She said Mr Breen argued a wooden structure is not “an excavation he has made” and that he claimed to have had only the first part of the penal notice read to him and not the full terms of the order.
Mr Breen did not read the documents, followed oral advice to leave the tunnel and was not aware he would be in breach of the injunction by extending the wooden structure and causing obstruction, Ms Timan said.
“An oral instruction was given to the defendant to leave the tunnel; it left the distinct impression that this was all that was required,” she said.
Mrs Justice Heather Williams ordered that Mr Breen be produced at court for a short hearing on Monday, ahead of committal proceedings due to be held on Tuesday.