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Appeal for talks after arrests at drill site

By Linda Stewart

Published 14/06/2016

Prostest warning: Dr James Orr
Prostest warning: Dr James Orr

A leading environmentalist from Northern Ireland has appealed for the police to sit down with anti-fracking protesters after he was arrested and threatened with CS spray.

Dr James Orr, the director of Friends of the Earth in Northern Ireland, warned that somebody is going to get "very badly hurt" after a number of protesters were arrested and charged during a Sunday ramble at Woodburn Forest in Co Antrim.

The access route has been fenced off as exploratory oil drilling at the site close to a drinking water reservoir is carried out by InfraStrata.

Dr Orr said there was a sense over the last few weeks that police and InfraStrata security have been becoming more and more aggressive towards protesters opposed to the drilling.

"I'd love to sit down with the police, but there is no community liaison, he said. "I'm concerned that somebody is going to get very badly hurt. We are peaceful people. We just want to walk on the right of way ­- we don't want to walk on the site.

"It needs to be sorted and the police need to sit down with us and have a meeting at a very senior level."

Stop The Drill said seven people were arrested on Sunday night and threatened with CS spray when they legally occupied the right of way. "Throughout this campaign we were told this site would be a zero discharge site and access to the forest would not be hindered in any way. Neither is true," a spokesperson said.

Dr Orr said he was with the Commons Rambling Group on Sunday when they tried to walk along the right of way.

"It's very benign, just young people and people with dogs - and it just went crazy," he said.

He said the group wanted to walk the length of the route but not continue on to the drill site. However, they were "manhandled" by officers from a Tactical Support Group.

He was charged with breach of the peace and told he cannot go to the site within 28 days.

"There has been a right of way there for at least 60 years, probably longer," Dr Orr said.

"We believe we have a right over it. InfraStrata have been given a right of occupation of the site, but NI Water did not give them a right of occupation over the right of way."

The PSNI said four men, aged 57, 51, 25 and 25, and a woman aged 26 have been charged with a number of offences including causing a breach of the peace and obstructing police.

"All five are due to appear at Belfast Magistrates Court on Friday July 8.

"As is normal procedure, all charges are reviewed by the PPS," a spokesperson said.

Chief Inspector Stephen McCauley said: "I would like to remind everyone that the PSNI respect the rights of people to protest as long as it is within the parameters of the law.

"Where offences are being committed or where actions may lead to a breach of the peace, police will intervene and address these issues as they occur."

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