Two councillors who were pushed to the ground during policing of protests outside Cuadrilla’s Lancashire fracking site last week have accused police officers of trying to provoke the demonstrators.
Miranda Cox, a member of Kirkham Town Council, and Roger Lloyd, an independent on Fylde Borough Council, both reported increasingly heavy-handed policing at the weekday protests outside the site at Preston New Road near Blackpool.
Cllr Lloyd hit his head when he was pushed to the ground on Monday last week (27/2/2017). Cllr Cox suffered leg pain when she was pushed and fell last Wednesday (1/3/2017). A woman next to her was knocked unconscious.
In separate interviews, both councillors said they would be calling for a change of police tactics when they attended meetings this week.
Cllr Cox told DrillOrDrop:
“I have seen an escalation in the number of police and the way in which they are behaving.”
She said on Friday last week (3/3/2017), there had been four protesters at the site gate in the morning.
“We had a riot van each. We were outnumbered by the police by 15 to one.”
Cllr Lloyd said the police behaviour had changed in the past fortnight, coinciding with reports that Cuadrilla had complained about the protests to the Home Office and Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. He said:
“It’s almost as if the police had been trying to provoke violence. If they can provoke violence they can put an exclusion zone around the site.”
Cllr Cox said of the police:
“They are trying to provoke. They are trying to ignite. I think they want an excuse to escalate policing. They are not facilitating peaceful protest.”
“I have had fists in my back”
She said: “I have seen this escalate. I have had fists in my back in the past two weeks.”
She described how she was part of a group of protesters who were pushed together by police and held in one place for “a long time”. She said:
“They shoved us and that knocked us. My leg went from under me. There was a loud crack and I went down.
“I got up and there was a lady lying unconscious at my feet.”
She said the police formed a rank either side of the group, preventing other protesters from reaching them.
“I am trying to phone for an ambulance. But the operator couldn’t hear me because of the road. I asked the officers to use their radios to help me get an ambulance. They turned away from me. That is not what I was brought up to believe. That scared me.”
Cllr Lloyd was filmed by a protester being pushed by a police officer. He was given the all clear after going to hospital for a scan on his head.
“The vast majority of protesters when I have been at the site are quite elderly. The police pushing and telling you to get back – it is extremely intimidating.
“We just feel that the police are very concerned with protecting local businesses and not protecting people protesting. The protesters have an equal right to be there.”
Cllr Lloyd said he believed the police had been directed to take a no-tolerance approach.
“The increased presence is highly intimidating, so much so that the protesters now call these police Cuadrilla’s Stormtroopers.
“This change in policing has resulted in assaults and a great deal of distress. … There was genuine shock, alarm and fear amongst the protesters as these new tactics rolled out.”
Cllr Lloyd said this was a “stark contrast” to the early weeks of the protest.
“There was huge support from passing motorists and a relaxed cooperation from the police and protesters alike.”
Cllr Cox said there had been minimum policing at the start of Cuadrilla’s operation in January and early February.
“There were usually just two police liaison officers and one other officer for the first three-four weeks.”
She suggests the so-called “pop-up protests” blockading Cuadrilla contractors and suppliers marked the change of policing.
Both councillors complained that police had refused to facilitate slow-walking of lorries into the site, which had worked successfully at the start of the protest.
Cllr Cox added that the police appeared to be targeting specific people for arrest.
“People are being arrested on multiple occasions, predominantly young men and women. Lots of people are being arrested then released without charge.
“They [the police] are trying to ignite something. I do not think they will succeed.
“My feeling now is you are not intimidating me. You are making me more determined. I never thought I would hear myself say that.”
“We need a Gandhi moment”
Cllr Lloyd said the police needed to take a much calmer approach. He said:
“We need a Gandhi moment”.
He has asked Lancashire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Clive Grunshaw, to comment on the incident in which he was pushed and about the changes in police behaviour. He says he has not had a reply. Cllr Lloyd commented:
“It is said that a society can be judged by how it protects its most vulnerable. But it would appear the individual must now come second to corporate demands. Francis Egan has much to answer for.”
Cllr Cox said:
“There are places on that road where slow-walking could be facilitated without risk to road users or protesters.
“Their [the police’s] primary aim is to get that road open, the trucks in and the pad built.
“If they would acknowledge we have that right to protest it would diffuse the situation.”
Lancashire Police said:
“Our approach is to ensure a consistent and coordinated policing response and ensure a balance between the rights of people to lawfully protest, together with the rights of the wider public, including local businesses, to go about their lawful activities.”
DrillOrDrop asked Lancashire Police to comment on the incidents involving Cllr Cox and Cllr Lloyd. We will update this post with any response.
Cuadrilla told us:
“Both Home Office and BEIS officials are aware of the protester activity in Lancashire and as the article we believe that the Home Office can “help give the Police greater clarity on the laws surrounding protest action so that police are able to protect local businesses”.