A quiet Lancashire village is at the centre of a storm over police violence. But it’s a saga that has been running for months, with The Telegraph even getting caught up in it. And now, ordinary people are accusing the police of being a private company’s very own “stormtroopers”.
No fracking way
Preston New Road, near the village of Little Plumpton in Lancashire, is at the centre of a row over fracking. Cuadrilla, a shale gas extraction company, has permission to frack the site. But local people are against the company’s plans. And they have stepped up their protests since January.
The government gave the go-ahead for Cuadrilla to frack there – the first site of its kind in the UK – last year. Cuadrilla officially began work on 5 January. And ever since, protesters have been at the site.
The government’s decision to let Cuadrilla frack has been controversial. Lancashire County Council originally refused Cuadrilla’s application to frack the site. But Communities Secretary Sajid Javid stepped in last October and gave the company permission.
Frack you, Javid
Campaigners from Preston New Road Action Group (PNRAG) said of Javid’s decision at the time:
It is wholly undemocratic. The ramifications of overturning local planning decisions are huge… Ordinary people are appalled that we are governed by people who say one thing and do another. Dismantling the democratic process to facilitate a dirty fossil fuel industry… is another example of… governmental hypocrisy. It is clear to all that this government neither listens nor can it be trusted to do the right thing for local communities. Profit clearly comes before people.
And PNRAG are in court on Wednesday 15 March, seeking a judicial review of Javid’s decision.
The situation at the site escalated on Wednesday 8 March. Police allegedly assaulted local farmer John Tootill. And then promptly arrested him:
Late on Wednesday, police bailed Tootill until 3 May.
As The Canary previously reported, The Telegraph said that police had arrested dozens of protesters. It said the reason was relating to “verbal death threats and physical assaults” against Cuadrilla workers. But the paper since admitted this was “incorrect”.
Frack the police
But it seems the police may be far from an innocent party in this. Councillor Miranda Cox from Kirkham said in a statement to The Canary:
We have witnessed and experienced an increase in police numbers and a hardening of tactics. At times it has felt that we are being policed as if we are in a riot situation. Clearly there is a balance between public safety and public order and the right to protest. At present the balance appears to tilt in favour of industry rather than the protesters. Arrests appear to be used routinely.
The police allegedly injured both Cox and another councillor, Roger Lloyd. On Wednesday 1 March, police allegedly pushed Cox, causing her to fall. She allegedly suffered leg pain. She also said the police kettled them, after which:
They shoved us and that knocked us. My leg went from under me. There was a loud crack and I went down. I got up and there was a lady lying unconscious at my feet.
On Monday 27 February, police allegedly pushed Lloyd to the ground:
Both councillors have also accused the police of trying to “provoke” violence.
You fracking what?
Lancashire Police said:
Our approach is to ensure a consistent and coordinated policing response and ensure a balance between the rights of people to lawfully protest, together with the rights of the wider public, including local businesses, to go about their lawful activities.
But Claire Stephenson from PNRAG disagrees. She told The Canary:
The escalation of aggression by the police into what can only be described as gratuitous violence, seems inextricably linked to Cuadrilla’s pleading visit to the Home Office to ask for governmental intervention on anti-fracking campaigners in Lancashire. The community and campaigners have been treated with utter contempt. The police bias is staggering and we will continue to strongly, but peacefully, resist.
A fracking disgrace
What is happening in this small Lancashire village is a microcosm of the Tories’ attitude towards the public across the country. It doesn’t seem enough that they openly encourage fracking. They now feel they can ride roughshod over the democratic will of local councils, and local people. And big businesses like Cuadrilla simply bulldoze their way through, assisted by the police.
But frackers will not easily move the people of Lancashire. And so this saga looks set to continue for weeks, if not months, to come.
– Support campaigns against fracking.
Featured image via Peter Yankowski