“Government approved fracking so it should pay for protest police” – Lancs PCC

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Lancashire’s Police and Crime Commissioner for Lancashire said this evening the government had given the go-ahead for fracking in the county and so it should pay to police the protests.

Clive Grunshaw said he had written to the Business Secretary, Sajid Javid, about the pressures on the county of policing protests outside Cuadrilla’s fracking site at Preston New Road.

Mr Javid, in his former job as Communities and Local Government Secretary, approved planning permission for Cuadrilla’s plans to drill, frack and test up to four shale gas wells at Little Plumpton near Blackpool.

Referring to this, Mr Grunshaw said:

“This is not a problem made in Lancashire, this is a decision that the Government made after Lancashire turned it down.”

In a statement he added:

“The Government gave the go ahead for this experimental drilling, they should foot the bill for policing the protest.”

Lancashire Police was unable to provide an estimate of the cost of the protests so far. But earlier this week Mr Grunshaw expressed concern about funding the protests:

“Officers keeping people safe at Preston New Road are taken from across Lancashire – spreading the blue line even thinner. It is a burden being born by Lancashire taxpayers – that is unfair and unjust.”

On Wednesday, he visited the protests on the side of Preston New Road, a main route into Blackpool with a 50-mile-an-hour speed limit. He spoke to people, some of whom have been opposing Cuadrilla’s operation since work began on 5 January 2017.

Mr Grunshaw said today:

“Policing a protest on such a busy road is demanding and fraught with risk and is drawing on our available resources at a time when we are already stretched.

“Our officers are policing in very difficult circumstances striking a balance between the right to peaceful protest and the right for people to go about their daily business. It is a difficult and pressured and environment and I have seen for myself the pressure they are under.

“Today I’ve written to business secretary Sajid Javid highlighting the pressures we are facing in Lancashire having to police protests in Preston New Road as a result of the test fracking sites.”

Opponents of Cuadrilla’s operation at Preston New Road have complained about increasingly heavy-handed policing, raised police presence and a refusal of officers to facilitate slow-walking of lorries into the site.

On Wednesday, one protester, Netty, told Mr Grunshaw:

“I am absolutely, totally disgusted with the behaviour with the police on this site. And I think that something needs to be done about it. We have a right to peaceful protest, legal protest, under our human rights and we just need our slow walks facilitated and it needs to be done because what is happening here is just too dangerous.”

Another, Miranda Cox, said:

“I have seen the [police] tactics change and the presence grow. What I have witnessed, it frightens me.

“I am being hardened. I want to warn you that what is happening here is detrimental to the long-term future relationship between the people of Lancashire, the people of Fylde, and your police force because that trust is being eroded. I am of the generation that was told if you’ve got a problem, get a policeman.”

During his visit on Wednesday, Mr Grunshaw told protesters:

“[Fracking in Lancashire] is a political decision. It needs a political solution. That needs to be with the MPs. The protest should be down in Westminster, at the DCLG {Department of Communities and Local Government], at your MP’s surgeries, that’s where the protest should be. This is a political problem. The police are stuck in the middle.”

But protesters said they had exhausted all political options and blamed the police for making the protests more dangerous. They alleged officers were pushing protesters, dragging them along the tarmac, pulling hair and using the pressure point arrest technique, where extreme pain is inflicted for a short period.

Miranda Cox said that earlier this week officers had promised a de-escalation of the policing at Preston New Road. But this had not happened. She told Mr Grunshaw:

“What I am witnessing on a daily basis is a ramping up and a pressure point being applied to this protest almost as if there’s a wider agenda going on.

“I’m thinking that maybe the agenda is around a bigger issue around protest in this country, about stifling people’s rights. I am very reluctant to think that Lancashire could be part of that, but what I am witnessing is leaving me in no doubt.”

She added:

“My fear is that the government will pay for the protest but put on extra demands: to get the protesters cleared.”

In response to Mr Grunshaw’s statement, she said:

“I think this statement does not address the way we are being policed. His statement is about resources. It’s a very valid question and one we are also concerned about. However, I’m really concerned that the police methods are still not being addressed.

Police said three people were arrested at the Preston New Road protests on Wednesday 8 March. They included John Toothill, who lives nearby, who was charged with obstructing the highway. He was bailed to appear at Blackpool Magistrates Court on 3 April 2017.

A 26-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of an offence under Section 241 of the Trade Union Act and later released with no charge. A 29-year-old man of no fixed abode was arrested on suspicion of theft and possession of a Class A drug. He has been bailed to April 20.

On Thursday 9 March eight people aged between 23 and 67, were arrested and all charged with failing to comply with a police direction on prohibited assembly. They were bailed to appear at Blackpool Magistrates Court on 24 March, 3 April or 10 April.

Court challenge
Next week, the government’s approval of planning permission for Preston New Road will be challenged in the High Court in Manchester.

The residents’ campaign group, Preston New Road Action Group, and Gayzer Frackman are bringing statutory challenges against the Communities and Local Government Secretary.

The case begins at 9.30am on 15 March at the Family and Civil Justice Centre, Bridge Street, Manchester. It is expected to last three days. DrillOrDrop will be reporting from the whole hearing.

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