Policing of protests at Cuadrilla’s Lancashire shale gas site will use officers from other parts of the UK, as well as the local force, from next week.
More officers are likely to be on duty from Monday and policing at the site at Preston New Road Road near Blackpool will become 24-hours a day.
The news emerged in a message from the community organisation, Roseacre Awareness Group.
Its chairman, James Nisbet, said he’d been told about the policing changes in a phone call from Lancashire Constabulary yesterday evening.
Mr Nisbet said he’d been informed that that the so-called police mutual aid system would begin on Monday. This is where one force provides policing assistance to another. It is usually in response – or anticipation – of a major incident.
The system was used in 2013 in policing at protests outside Cuadrilla’s oil exploration site at Balcombe in West Sussex and outside the IGas site at Barton Moss in Salford (2013-2014). This would be the first time mutual aid had been used at Preston New Road.
Lancashire officers have been policing protests at Preston New Road on week days since Cuadrilla began work began at the site more than 26 weeks ago in January.
Mr Nisbet said he’d been told the changes would mean:
- Increased police presence at the site each day
- Police from other forces would be present, possibly in slightly different uniforms
- Police presence at the site 24 hours a day.
Mr Nisbet said Lancashire Police had told him the new arrangements were being introduced because of the increased activity at the site following the Reclaim the Power Rolling Resistance protest, expected to continue throughout July. Mutual aid would also allow Lancashire police resources to be redeployed to other policing operations, the force told him.
Anti-fracking campaigners have described the changes as intimidatory. The Lancashire force has already been accused of disproportionate and aggressive tactics. DrillOrDrop report.
“Urgent review of protest policing guidelines”
News of the mutual aid arrangements coincided with a call by the Green Party MEP, Keith Taylor, for a review of policing guidelines for oil and gas protests following reports of violence at blockades in the past week.
A video (see below) showed a woman protester apparently being thrown to the ground by a police officer at a demonstration outside the supply depot of Marriott Drilling near Chesterfield in Derbyshire on 30 June. Lancashire Police confirmed they were investigating a complaint that a security guard assaulted a protester at Preston New Road. DrillOrDrop report
Mr Taylor said he had written to the National Police Chief Council asking for an update on protest policing guidelines. Link to letter
“The photos and videos coming out from the recent protests in Derbyshire and Lancashire are incredibly concerning. It’s shocking that apparently peaceful demonstrators have suffered such violence while exercising their democratic freedom to protest.
“It is becoming increasingly clear that political pressure is being brought to bear on police forces to act as the legal enforcers in a drilling debate the government is losing. The Government is in danger of allowing industry interests to undermine our fundamental freedoms.
“If local residents are beginning to question whether officers are working to protect them or just the interests of the oil and gas industry the notion of consent has broken down – and trust must be repaired.”
The Green Party peer, Baroness Jones, said she would be writing to Lancashire’s Police and Crime Commissioner about concerns that the county’s force was not allowing people to protest at Preston New Road.
Lancashire policing costs
In April, the Government refused a request by Mr Grunshaw for extra funds to police anti-fracking protests in Lancashire.
Mr Grunshaw warned the costs would be upwards of £450,000 per month. But the policing minister said there was “no central Government funding stream available to meet the policing costs incurred as a result of fracking”.
The minister added that Lancashire could apply for special grant funding only when costs reached more than 1% of the PCC’s budget. This would be after the force had spent at least £2.6m, expected to be incurred in just under six months at the estimated spending rate.
Lancashire will have to pay the costs of officers from other forces under mutual aid. National policing guidance suggested there would be funding available:
“Recent experience has shown there are circumstances where the provision of mutual aid exceeds the capacity of the host force to fund the associated costs. In these cases a bid may be made to the Home Office for a Special Police Grant, which would be considered by the Home Office and Ministers.”