Anti-fracking and ‘besetting’: a law against peaceful protest?

Thinking legally

These are Dickensian times so why not revive a few Victorian laws to deal with the indigent, the pauper and the malcontent?

Thus two men caught taking discarded food from a supermarket skip were charged under an obscure section of the 1824 Vagrancy Act, after being discovered in “an enclosed area, namely Iceland [supermarket], for an unlawful purpose, namely stealing food”.

The charge was later (sensibly) dropped, but now anti-fracking protesters have been successfully prosecuted for another obscure Victorian offence: “besetting” the Cuadrilla test drilling site near Balcombe, West Sussex. Natalie Hynde and Simon Medhurst had superglued themselves to a gate and held up the entry of lorries for two hours.

So what is “besetting” – or “watching and besetting” as the offence is properly termed? And could it become a significant legal weapon in the armoury against protest?

The crucial point about the law is that it involves…

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