Woodburn Forest oil drill protesters rap 'heavy-handed' policing approach
Campaigners battling controversial plans to drill for oil and gas in a popular Co Antrim forest are considering complaining to the Police Ombudsman over "hostile" policing of their protest.
They claimed PSNI officers threatened them with arrest for aggravated trespass at Woodburn Forest, even though they were on public land. Up to five PSNI Land Rovers and officers from the Tactical Support Group were deployed at the forest last Monday.
Last week InfraStrata felled trees on land leased from Northern Ireland Water close to the reservoir that supplies water to hundreds of homes, even though it doesn't yet have an approved waste management plan.
Campaigners have set up a permanent protest site at the forest. Their cause has been supported by Mark Ruffalo, star of the film Spotlight, and British Superbike ace Glenn Irwin.
Yesterday protesters delivered a letter from Ruffalo, founder of Water Defense, to the Department of the Environment (DoE) at Goodwood House.
Daniel Jewsbury, a spokesman for North and West Belfast Greens, said some people were considering lodging a complaint with the Police Ombudsman over the handling of the protest.
"It is very clear that the police overstepped the mark and reacted in a very heavy-handed way," he told the Belfast Telegraph. "The police threatened us while the tree fellers were cutting branches and trees along the main access road. We were threatened with arrest for aggravated trespass."
Mr Jewsbury said aggravated trespass applied to trespassers who stopped someone going about their lawful business.
"The problem is this is public land and the activity of the contractors is not lawful because they don't have the correct licences. They have overstepped what they are allowed to do," he claimed.
"It is very clear that there is one part of the site which is leased to InfraStrata and that is not fenced off, but all of the rest of the forest is public and you can't be arrested for trespass. We were cleared out of the forest, forced out with the threat of arrest by a line of police moving towards Paisley Road.
"It was a very, very hostile policing operation, very physical and quite aggressive."
InfraStrata was contacted but refused to comment. The PSNI said it respected people's right to protest peacefully within the parameters of the law.
Chief Inspector Stephen McCauley said they would monitor the situation and engage with all interested parties moving forward.
Stop The Drill is calling for concerned people to attend a council meeting at the Braid in Ballymena from 6.30pm on Monday, March 7.