The Police and Crime Commissioner for Cheshire is demanding IGas pay the costs of the operation to evict a protest camp from its exploratory gas site at Upton.
John Dwyer said this afternoon he was “outraged” that IGas had decided to give up on the site at Dutton’s Lane just weeks after the eviction.
IGas announced last Friday that it would not be drilling at Duttons Lane, or at another site near Chester at Salters Lane, Mickle Trafford. It said coal bed methane exploration in the area was not commercially viable. See DrillOrDrop report
But less than four weeks ago, on 12th January, about 175 officers from four police forces supported High Court bailiffs to evict the Upton camp. Cheshire Police later estimated its costs to be £200,000.
Mr Dwyer said he believed the campaigners would have left voluntarily if they’d known IGas was pulling out. He said he would be writing to the company seeking to recoup the costs. In a statement he said:
“I’m outraged, frankly, that IGas have managed to take this decision so shortly after choosing to enforce the eviction.”
“Once court appointed bailiffs were called in, the Constabulary had a duty to oversee an operation to ensure that lawful protest could take place, and that bailiffs, protestors and the wider public were kept safe as well as ensuring the company’s legal rights were complied with.”
The eviction operation lasted about seven hours and nine people were arrested, including the local ward councillor, Matt Bryan.
Mr Dywer added:
“It’s a credit to officers on the ground that it went without any major incident. But let’s be clear – it was not without risk of serious injury, given the state of the site.
“I find it impossible to believe that IGas did not already know that they would be making this decision.
“If they had announced that they would not be drilling on the site I’m confident protestors would have left voluntarily, and we could have avoided what was a difficult, challenging police operation at considerable cost to the public purse.
“I will now be writing to the directors of the company to set out my unhappiness at the approach they have taken, and to demand that the cost of the police operation, which could have been avoided, is repaid.”
On Friday, IGas would not comment on the eviction or the costs of the policing operation.
We asked the company this afternoon if it wanted to make a statement in the light of Mr Dywer’s remarks. A spokesperson said:
“Protestors were on the site illegally. It is a matter for the local Police Authority to assess the policing requirements needed to support the eviction process.”
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Updated at 17.53 to include IGas comment