Councillors and anti-fracking campaigners have accused Lancashire Police of colluding with Cuadrilla to develop its shale gas site near Blackpool.
There have also been complaints that the force has used “aggressive and inconsistent tactics” against campaigners at anti-fracking protests at the site at Preston New Road.
Similar general allegations have been made since Cuadrilla began work in January. DrillOrDrop report
But they came to a head this week when the company delivered its drilling rig in the early hours of yesterday morning, against planning rules and accompanied by about 50 police officers.
The day before, a national monitoring group published a film in which anti-fracking protesters complained about violence and aggression from the police and a disregard for their human rights.
See also: Backing Fracking backs the police at the bottom of this post
“Collusion is a major issue”
Paul Hayhurst, a county councillor for the Fylde, which includes Preston New Road, said:
“Police collusion with Cuadrilla is a major issue”.
In a statement issued yesterday, the company said:
“We decided, following consultation with the Lancashire Police, to take delivery of the rig in the early daylight hours of the morning”.
Cllr Hayhurst said:
“Cuadrilla, apparently with the consent of the police have ridden roughshod across the planning conditions.
“It seems nonsense that the law enforcement agency is breaking the law. You would have thought it would have been upholding the rules.”
Another Fylde county councillor, Liz Oades, said:
“Mr Egan appeared to suggest that they had the agreement of the police to break planning consent which, if true, is very disappointing and questionable. Surely it must be wrong for the police to encourage unlawful actions. To cite public safety is simply not good enough.
“I know of no other industry which requires 50 police officers to operate in this way and I seriously question the cost of policing, at taxpayers expense, what is, in effect help for a private company.”
Kirkham Town Councillor, Miranda Cox, a regular protester against Cuadrilla at Preston New Road, described the delivery as “a very disappointing turn of events”. She said:
“What I keep saying to the police is that this community will never trust you again.
“Whatever happens, whether they frack or don’t frack, the one legacy that is going to come out of this is complete distrust of the police and that saddens me.”
“Massive amount of police”
She said protesters who had camped on the road outside the site were surrounded by police when the rig was delivered.
“The first thing they know is there’s a massive amount of police arrived very swiftly jumped out of the vans and formed a cordon down the verge surrounding the tent encampment.
“The police were very reluctant to engage with the protesters when they were asked what was happening.
“There was just a wall of police around them. They weren’t allowed to go to the toilet tent. They weren’t allowed to move.
“One of the protesters did ask what was happening and they were told ‘You’ll have to speak to Lancashire County Council in the morning’. Another officer said: ‘Speak to Cuadrilla’. So the impression was that the police had taken orders from Cuadrilla and Lancashire County Council.”
Lancashire County Council has since said it was not involved in the decision and is investigating the breach of planning conditions. Lancashire Police made a statement apparently distancing itself from the company:
“As a result of Cuadrilla’s decision to carry out deliveries in the early hours of this morning, a policing operation was put in place to ensure safety and to minimise disruption to the local community, particularly given recent increased protestor activity at the Preston New Road site which is still on-going.”
But Cllr Hayhurst said the county council would find it hard to take action against Cuadrilla because of the police involvement.
“It would look very silly for the council to issue an enforcement notice when the police agreed to the breach of conditions”.
Another county councillor, the Green Party’s Gina Dowding, said:
“There are a lot of people who are outraged by the collusion between the police and Cuadrilla”.
Cllr Cox said:
“We have been putting it to them for months that they are colluding with Cuadrilla and they deny it but I am left with very little doubt now that they are working together.”
DrillOrDrop invited Lancashire Police to respond to these comments but it said it had nothing to add to yesterday’s statement (in full in this DrillOrDrop post).
Lancashire Police have also been accused of trying to dissuade people from taking part in protests.
The police monitoring group, Netpol, published footage this week of protests at Preston New Road and the testimony of campaigners. The group said:
“Lancashire Police is accused of aggressive and inconsistent tactics that has left some local people afraid to exercise their fundamental rights to freedom of expression and assembly.”
In the film, commissioned from Gathering Place Films, one older woman said she felt safer taking part in a lock-on protest than being at the side of the road, where she had previously been knocked to the ground by an officer.
Kevin Blowe, coordinator of Netpol, said:
“The police always assert that they must strike a balance between the rights of protestors and others. Human rights law is, however, very clear – that balance should always fall in favour of the right to protest unless there is strong evidence for interfering with protesters’ rights.
“Inconvenience or disruption alone are not sufficient reasons for doing so and the senior officer in charge of the operation acknowledges in the film that protesters are not violent.
“There is significant evidence, which this film highlights, that Lancashire Police is therefore completely ignoring its legal responsibilities.”
Cllr Cox, who took part in a lock-on protest earlier this month, said of the large number of police on duty on the night of the delivery:
“I do think it is a deliberate tactic by the police to basically scare protesters.
“The fact that it has taken so many police in the middle of the night for four protesters. It looks to me like a deliberate scare tactic – that they are wanting to come down heavy.”
“I’ve had people come to me locally and say ‘I support the anti-frackers. I want to go and protest. But I am terrified’.”
She said a calm sit-down protest earlier this week ended in violence. Asked to give examples, she said:
“The way you are ripped apart from each other, you’re dragged. I don’t know one person who’s not covered in bruises. You’re shouted at, screamed at, you’re told to move.
“I’ve never been a massive cheerleader for the police but I’ve never been anti either. Many people similar to me, in the same demographic, a certain age, level of education and lifestyle, we’ve always had a healthy scepticism. But now we all say the same thing. Our views of authority have completely shifted. Completely done an about-turn.”
Backing Fracking backs the police
A group supporting shale gas issued a press release this morning in which it said 351 people in the county had signed a letter to the Chief Constable praising officers policing of the fracking protests.
Backing Fracking said of the letter, organised by Brent Crossley, of Blackpool,
“It pays special tribute to those officers that attend the shale gas site where site on the main A583 Preston New Road at Little Plumpton every day where, in the face of extreme provocation and unnecessary abuse from national anti-fracking activists, they somehow manage to behave with impeccable professionalism, dignity and restraint as they try to facilitate people’s right to lawful protest whilst also maintaining public order and allowing Cuadrilla and its contractors to go about their legitimate business.”
Mr Crossley is quoted as saying:
“Anyone that has driven past the site, or followed events in the local media, will be very well aware that national activists have shown scant regard for the law or the rights of people trying to use the A583 to get to work or school. All of this has diverted valuable police resources from more important duties and cost the decent, hard-working Council Tax payers of Lancashire a lot of money.
“But it was seeing the daily abuse that officers receive that made me think of organising a jointly signed letter to the Chief Constable. I knew I couldn’t be the only resident appalled by the treatment police officers on the fracking front line have had to put up with – ordinary men and women that live amongst us in our communities when they’re not in uniform – and decided to do something about it.
“The response has been amazing, and shows that the police are fully supported by the vast majority of law abiding people who, regardless of their views on fracking, just want these activists to stop wilfully breaking the law and wasting everyone’s time and money.
“People are just fed up of it all now. Since the start of the year, activists have forced the closure of the A583 far too many times. I think most residents support the right of genuinely local campaigners to hold peaceful demonstrations at the site, drawing attention to their cause with banners and placards, but not the behaviour we’ve seen from national activists. There is no justification for blocking a public highway they way they do.
“We now know that the drilling rig has been delivered to site, which the activists wanted to prevent, and so their month of direct action hasn’t inconvenienced Cuadrilla, just residents and road users. It’s time they packed up and stopped causing unnecessary confrontations with the police who are just there to do a job.”