Four protesters, charged with Aggravated Trespass after they held a 'sit-in' at Centros' London offices in December 2008 (see news story), were found Not Guilty last week at Westminster Magistrate's Court.
After a two day trial, during which the protesters read to the court a list of questions they had read aloud whilst in the offices of Centros, the District Judge said he was satisfied that the protest was peaceful and lawful.
“All we did was try to get answers to some questions that our councillors seemed unwilling to ask, like, how does this development fit with national and international laws regarding climate change," commented Matthew Wilson. "We've still to get those answers.”
"Obviously we're very happy about this verdict," said Rory Walker, one of the protesters, "and we're looking forward to another victory against Centros in June when their plans go to Public Inquiry."
"We've been acquitted," added Aurora Trujillo, "but we've still got the real battle ahead, to stop Centros turning Lancaster into one more Clone Town.”
During the trail, the court heard that at least one member of the Centros team had recently been made redundant, raising further questions about the company's position.
"Centros pulled out of Dumfries quoting the economic climate, they opened in Bury St Edmunds with less than fifty per cent occupancy of the retail units, and their Portsmouth development now looks like it will face at least two more years of delay," said Rebecca Smith, "and they're not even able to attend the Public Inquiry here in Lancaster.
"It's hard to believe Centros could make this happen, even if the council is irresponsible enough to waste tax payers money fighting the Inquiry for them.”
Asked by the Defence whether he was aware that the development in Lancaster had been called in for a Public Inquiry, David Lewis, Associate Director said simply: “Very aware.”
After the trial, Matthew Wilson said “We've been involved in the fight against Centros at all levels. We went through the planning process, handed out leaflets, helped with the Carnival of Culture, and then finally we took the fight directly to Centros.
"Hopefully this verdict will remind people that protest is supposed to be lively and engaged, because increasingly it feels like we're supposed to register our disapproval through a polite petition and nothing more.”
The Public Inquiry into the Canal Corriodor scheme is scheduled to run for three weeks starting 16th June and may cost local tax payers at least £50,000 as the Council defends the scheme. Centros will not be presenting their own case (see news story), leaving the Council to foot the legal bills in an effort to secure its go ahead.
The Council says it is not defending the applicant, Centros, but is defending the council’s strategic objectives in line with national and regional planning policy for the Lancaster district (see statement).