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Irish Times: Shell denies it let pipeline protesters languish in prison

Published: Jan 18, 2007

Shell E&P Ireland has rejected claims that it allowed five Rossport men to languish in prison for several weeks in 2005 after the company had agreed to cease work on its controversial onshore gas pipeline pending the outcome of a safety review by the Minister for the Communications, Marine and Natural Resources.

Counsel for Shell Patrick Hanratty told the High Court yesterday such a suggestion was “grossly unfair”. Shell had nothing to do with the amount of time the men spent in prison or the fact they were there at all, he said.

Mr Hanratty said the Minister had said that he was commissioning a safety review in July 2005, but Shell did not not know what form that report would take until the following September, when it applied to have the injunction lifted.

He was responding to submissions by Lord Brennan QC, counsel for two opponents of the pipeline, Brendan James Philbin and Breege McGarry, who told the court on Tuesday that documents had revealed that Shell had agreed with the Minister in early July 2005 to stop work on the pipeline pending compliance issues and the outcome of the safety review.

Lord Brennan said it was only in September 2005 that the company applied to the High Court to have the five men released from prison, citing the suspension of work and the safety review as the basis for its application. The men had spent 94 days in prison before they were freed.

Mr Hanratty also rejected Lord Brennan’s argument that Shell should pay on a solicitor-client basis (the highest level of legal costs) those costs to date by four defendants, including three of the men known as the Rossport Five, in relation to proceedings brought against them by Shell. There was “not one shred of evidence” of misconduct on the part of Shell.

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy yesterday reserved judgment on the application.

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