Regular protesters at Cuadrilla’s fracking site near Blackpool have told Lancashire Police they no longer have any confidence in the force or its procedures.
Speaking at a regular police liaison meeting this evening, they said:
“We conclude community relations have been irreparably damaged and a whole section of residents will never regain trust in the Police. This is a damning legacy”.
They handed a letter, signed by 16 people, to a senior officer, complaining that they had been subjected to “unprofessional comments, provocative behaviour and physical aggression” by officers.
They told the local commander, Chief Inspector Keith Ogle, that some officers at the protests had caused concussion, cuts, bruising, torn ligaments and broken bones through poor handling, aggressive shoving, tipping and dragging of protesters. Their letter also said officers had carried out spurious arrests and detentions.
Protests outside the fracking site at Preston New Road are entering their third winter. There have been near-daily demonstrations since Cuadrilla began site construction work in January 2017.
Since then there have been accusations of heavy-handed policing and officers sometimes significantly outnumbering protesters. But the meeting was told that relations with police had deteriorated further in recent weeks as officers escorted deliveries to the site, where fracking began last month.
The letter added:
“It is the apparent that vehicle deliveries, or indeed any vehicle movement, is facilitated by police, irrespective of protector numbers and those vehicles have more protection than our human rights.
“We are no longer treated as people with passion and conviction but are treated with contempt. We are simply trying to protect our communities, to which the police themselves belong.”
Five of the signatories regularly attended police liaison meetings, at which people can raise concerns with senior officers. But they said they no longer had any faith that attending the meetings was beneficial. The letter said:
“We are letting you know we are no longer participating in Police Liaison Meetings nor communicating with Police Officers associated with Operation Manila.”
One of the signatories was Kirkham town councillor and fracking opponent, Miranda Cox. She said:
“Personally I am incredibly sad that we now feel this is our only option. I believe that to carry on meeting, to go over the same ground, to never achieve satisfaction through the Police Complaints system is just a waste of everyone’s time.”
She said in a statement read to this evening’s meeting:
“Events with particular officers and units over recent weeks have led us to conclude that the deterioration in community relations we predicted last year has indeed happened.”
She said almost all of the signatories of the letter were aged over 45.
“The consensus was that everyone had been raised to respect the police but their experiences at Preston New Road had irreversibly damaged their trust and faith in the system.”
But Cllr Cox said:
“We have witnessed and been victim of poor police decisions and firmly believe our attempts to achieve justice through your systems is impossible.”
She said very few complaints against the police had been upheld.
“Sadly it leaves us to conclude that Lancashire Constabulary have closed ranks against this particular section of the Fylde Community.”
She said other people at the meeting regarded themselves as ordinary, law-abiding citizens. They felt the police were being used as “a force against protesters and a wedge to divide the community”, she said. The protesters were not prepared to “give validity” to this behaviour by continuing to liaise with the police, she added.
The protesters asked Chief Inspector Ogle to pass on their concerns to police forces in other areas where shale gas exploration was underway or planned.
They said the level of policing being devoted to the Preston New Road protests was not sustainable or desirable.
Cllr Cox said:
“One well pad had brought significant harm to community relationships and further expansion of the industry anywhere is going to have catastrophic repercussions.”
- DrillOrDrop has invited Lancashire Police and the Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner to respond to the letter. We will report any comment from the force.
A report on policing at fracking protests by Netpol concluded that policing operations that caused a “long-term legacy of resentment and distrust create a “new normality that will last long after protests are over.” It said Police and Crime Commissioners needed to recognise that concerns about the public confidence costs of policing protests are just as important as the financial costs.
Netpol’s coordinator, Kevin Blowe, said:
“In Lancashire, Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw and Chief Constable Andy Rhodes have repeatedly ignored complaints about violent policing at Preston New Road – and in doing so, have also ignored the growing breakdown in trust and confidence by local people, included elected councillors.
“No wonder those who have persevered with attending Police Liaison Meetings have had enough.
“Both Grunshaw and Rhodes must respond to their letter immediately.”