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Woodburn Forest oil drill protester chained himself to lorry 'as last resort'

By Linda Stewart

Published 10/05/2016

Campaigner Mark Chapman stands on top of rig to prevent drilling yesterday
Campaigner Mark Chapman stands on top of rig to prevent drilling yesterday
Campaigner Mark Chapman stands on top of rig to prevent drilling
Police remove a car from the site

A protester chained himself to the top of a 60-tonne lorry yesterday as oil exploration company InfraStrata tried to bring a drilling rig into Woodburn Forest.

Mark Chapman said he would have preferred not to spend the morning on the enormous vehicle carrying the rig, but he felt he had no choice.

Last week a local resident was granted leave for a judicial review of the decision by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council to allow InfraStrata to explore for oil close to a Co Antrim reservoir that supplies drinking water to thousands of homes across Belfast.

Yesterday a protest was held after police closed Paisley Road near Carrickfergus to allow InfraStrata to bring its rig into the forest, where it has already built a wellpad. Campaigners slowly walked up the road ahead of the lorry, forcing it to drive at snail's pace. The vehicle then had to halt after it was scaled by Mr Chapman.

The maths tutor chained himself by the neck to the rig with a bicycle lock as officers in climbing gear boarded the lorry.

"I'm upholding environmental law," he said to cheers from the gathered campaigners.

Mr Chapman's protest was brought to an end by police officers, who charged him with obstructive sitting.

He agreed to present himself at Musgrave Street PSNI station in Belfast and was released on police bail at the scene.

Mr Chapman said it was his second attempt to climb on the rig as it moved towards Woodburn Forest.

"It was just going so slowly that I couldn't resist the temptation to jump on top," he added.

"It was there, it was going so slow, there were no police around and I knew I could just get on without being dragged off."

Mr Chapman told how he felt he had no choice but to protest.

"The huge issue is the development that has been permitted to go ahead with permitted development rights by the local council," he said.

"There is huge opposition to this development and I am a small part of that opposition.

"Stop The Drill have been working hard through the courts and had been given leave for a judicial review of the development.

"Despite that, InfraStrata had decided to go against the spirit of the court and bring this rig in.

"I am hoping that they will soon see sense and see that oil drilling in a water catchment area is a totally ridiculous thing to do.

"I would have preferred not to have sat on top of that rig for the morning, but it seemed like the option of last resort.

"The drill is probably going to go in anyway, but by delaying it, it allows the legal process to run its course."

Chief PSNI Inspector Stephen McCauley said: "This action forced the convoy to stop, obstructing the highway, and meant police were required to close the road to ensure the safety of the public, protesters and road users.

"Officers were also concerned for the safety of the male aboard the rig, as well as the potential for public order issues to arise."

InfraStrata declined to comment.

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