The police and crime commissioner for Lancashire has called for the escalating costs of the police operation at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road fracking site to be footed by central government.
On Wednesday 8 March Clive Grunshaw visited the site near Blackpool, where tensions between protesters opposing shale gas exploration and police have heightened in the last two weeks and where up to four riot vans are a regular presence.
The police and crime commissioner (PCC) told Big Issue North: “The police are working hard to keep everyone safe but I’m really concerned about the strain that this is putting on officers and the drain on our resources, making the thin blue line even thinner.
“I will be writing to ministers to tell them that the escalating costs of this operation should fall on national government rather than Lancashire taxpayers as Lancashire did not approve fracking on this site.”
At the beginning of last week police said there had been around 30 arrests at the site, mainly for suspicion of offences under section 14 of the Public Order Act. Reports from the site claim up to five more arrests were being made daily. Big Issue North witnessed three in under an hour on the afternoon of 7 March.
Grunshaw’s visit followed several incidents in which protesters, including two local councillors and a local farmer, have been hurt during conflict with police.
The PCC said: “While it’s clear that some people have concerns about the actions of the police it is important to remember that officers are being placed in a difficult, if not impossible, position between facilitating peaceful protest and allowing people to carry out their lawful business.”
He added: “During my visit I had the opportunity to speak with several protesters and some did raise concerns about alleged overzealous policing. In Lancashire there is a formal and well-publicised complaints process in place. I would urge anyone who believes that they have evidence that can be substantiated to follow this process. I am aware that councillor Cox has already done so and her complaint is currently being investigated.”
Lancashire Constabulary said “We’re aware of the claims which have been made and we are looking into them.”
Cox said she felt that protesters had been treated politely by Grunshaw but that little would change. She told Big Issue North: “We appear to have a stalemate in that they feel it’s proportionate and reasonable. We don’t feel we are making any headway at all.”
For more on the fracking protests see A Tidal Wave of Force