'A tidal wave
of force'

Antonia Charlesworth reports from the Preston New Road fracking site, where two local councillors have been injured and campaigners say police have become more forceful

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The seventh week of protests at the Preston New Road fracking site near Blackpool began with further arrests of activists opposing shale gas exploration. Police say the number of arrests made at the site is around 30, generally for suspicion of offences under Section 14 of the Public Order Act.

The arrests on Monday 6 March came as some protesters appeared at Manchester’s High Court following a fresh application from exploration company Cuadrilla for an injunction outlawing public access to its Lancashire site.

Judge Philip Raynor QC granted the injunction but refused the application to limit protesters to a 25m by 25m area, which he called “unreasonable” and a potential source of “increased anger”. But a Lancashire councillor has said tensions are already permeating the site and expressed concern about increasingly violent tactics by police managing fracking protests after she was injured at the gates of the drilling site last week.

Miranda Cox, who represents the Kirkham North ward on Kirkham Town Council, described being forcibly shoved to the ground during police kettling of a group of anti-fracking protesters on Wednesday 1 March. Cox was taken to Blackpool Victoria Hospital by ambulance with torn ligaments to her knee, along with fellow protester Maria Allen, who was treated for concussion and bruising to her back.

It follows a series of incidents in which protesters have been hurt during conflict with police, including a reported incident on Tuesday 28 Feb in which Fylde Borough councillor Roger Lloyd, 68, received back injuries.

Cox was one of around 10 protesters who linked arms in front of the entrance to the fracking site to obstruct a lorry gaining access. “Police are now denying us any opportunity to slow walk the lorries so we decided to stand across the entrance and make a stand,” she told Big Issue North.

Apparently unconscious

“The police surrounded us, then started pressing us into each other so we were holding each other up and then there was a shove. We regrouped and then without warning a tidal wave of force came.”

Video footage of the incident shows Cox, wearing a red hat, fall before being pulled out of the crowd. Allen can be seen on the ground, apparently unconscious, along with another protester – Joe Haslam – who is removed by police. Photos taken at the time show Haslam being walked away in handcuffs.

“All the protectors got round Maria to shield her and check she was OK, and I was pulled away, so called an ambulance,” said Cox. “I was in shock and couldn’t make myself heard because the traffic was still flowing. I went naively to a police officer and asked him to radio for an ambulance for this lady because it might be quicker, and he turned away.”

Lancashire Constabulary told Big Issue North it is looking into the incident. A spokesperson said: “There are things going on every day. There’s lots of allegations being thrown out and videos put online so we are dealing with things as and when they happen.”

On Friday 3 March protesters claimed a police barrister visited Preston New Road and Cox has been invited, along with other injured protesters, to a meeting with the police chief inspector on Wednesday 8 March.

Police made at least three more arrests during protests on Tuesday 7 March.

The anti-fracking protest at Preston New Road has been active since contractors AE Yates began preparing the site for shale gas extraction in January. Video footage emerged early on of on-site security behaving aggressively towards protesters. One from 7 February shows a truck reversing into two people. Cox, who has been at the site daily, says Cuadrilla security has since eased off but that the police are becoming increasingly hostile.

“After the first week or so when the security were quite brutal there were a few changes of staff and they backed off but the moment you go near the fence they’re on you – they won’t touch you but they’re at your face,” said Cox.

“As they’ve backed off the police have stepped up, and they’ve stepped up massively. One morning there was four of us at the gates demonstrating and we had a riot van each. It’s ridiculous.”

Police apology

Last week Lancashire Constabulary apologised after wrongly accusing a large number of anti-fracking protesters of taking direct action during a planned solidarity event at the Preston New Road site on Saturday 25 February. The police reported 150 people tried to break through fencing to get onto the Cuadrilla site but later said it was just a handful of protesters.

Campaigners said access was gained through a gap in a hedge. The application for an injunction from Cuadrilla quickly followed the breach.

Cox said tensions between police and protesters have escalated since the solidarity event. “That lie they put out is out there now and people think we are riotous… We have explained if you let us demonstrate – let us have our moment – but they are not having any of it.”

Above: Maria Allen, injured in protests on 28 February. Main photo: campaigners Tina Rothery (orange scarf) and Miranda Cox (red hat) at the same protests. Photos: Peter Yankowski

Anti-fracking protests in Lancashire have so far been dominated by local residents, including a group of so-called nanas who call for safe and peaceful protest. But campaigners from around the North West and further afield have joined the demonstrations and set up a “protection camp” nearby, on Dugdales Close. The camp was served with an eviction notice last month but has not yet been moved on.

Campaign group Reclaim the Power, which demonstrates against fracking across the country, has announced a series of direct action pop-up protests in Lancashire on 27 March-10 April, targeting companies supplying services and materials to the Cuadrilla site, aiming to pressure them into dropping contracts. The tactic has already been used ad hoc by protesters, leading to six companies, as of 2 March, ceasing contracts.

On Thursday 2 March Cuadrilla CEO Francis Egan branded activists “irresponsible”. He told the Guardian: “People have a right to go about their day to day work. Your right to protest shouldn’t be allowed to supersede some businesses’ right to do business with us.”

Among those to pull out is Moores Ready Mix, which cut off its supply of cement to the Preston New Road site after access to its St Annes depot was blocked. Director Roy Moore wrote in an email to AE Yates: “In view of the drastic affect this is now having on the rest of my customers, we have no alternative but to cease supplies to the site.”

A video of an incident during the Moores Ready Mix protest has emerged in which a driver appears to collide with a demonstrator. Some of the protesters in the footage wear camouflage combats and masks, showing a different side to the campaign from the headscarf-wearing nanas and sparking criticism from residents. Lynn Scott on Facebook commented on the video: ”I’m not sure whether I’m watching ‘protesters’ or thugs… A truly peaceful anti-fracking protester wouldn’t feel the need to hide behind a scarf!”

Cox told Big Issue North: “The lads in the video are from the North West region but they were supported by locals. There were a lot of local campaigners there too and many of the same people that you find at PNR [Preston New Road]. They come to PNR as well and they don’t always conceal their faces. It was a particularly cold day.”

Cox said she was keen to avoid any division between local and national activists. She and other residents are now running a regular Friday night meeting for the protection camp at a community centre in Warton, where the campers can have hot showers and a warm meal.

“They have been with us for the last six or seven weeks and have been very, very helpful,” said Cox. “We are all on the same page. This is a national and a global issue.”

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Interact: Responses to ‘A tidal wave of force’

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  • julia
    11 May 2017 21:21
    Using police force...it's ridiculous how many police for one small group of peaceful protesters. Coming in with a heavy hand never works to create peace, it just agitates.
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  • Pauline
    05 Apr 2017 15:31
    Thank you for a balanced and well written article. I'm a local who has been at PNR since Cuadrilla started work in January. It's good to see a true picture of what I see unfolding every day. The sad fact is that the police presence and their prevention of peaceful protest by violence is escalating. This is obviously part of the government's agenda to push frackng through at all costs whether it's to the environment or the communities caught up in this dreadful prospect. The heartening thing is that people refuse to be deterred by police intimidation or the lies put out by the local, pro-fracking press and those short sighted businesses who expect to profit from fracking.
  • Josée Panet-Raymond
    08 Mar 2017 18:54
    Congratulations on your new website ! Strong images, interesting and in-depth articles as well as being very pleasant to navigate through.
  • Caroline
    08 Mar 2017 12:49
    Excellent journalism fro the Big Issue
  • Peter
    07 Mar 2017 18:48
    I am a local family man and have been on pnr most mornings early. All ok with police liaison, trouble start when the bully boys in riot vans turn up en mass! They are plain ignorant, just thugs with a badge! Don't accept our right to protest and protect our families and our Community from the dangers involved in the Fracking process!
  • Denise Hargreaves
    07 Mar 2017 17:43
    Excellent factual report, thank you Antonia and Big Issue.

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