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Woodburn Forest: PSNI accused of squandering £1m on policing oil drill protest

By Linda Stewart

The PSNI may have spent £1m policing the oil drilling protest at Woodburn Forest, campaigners have claimed.

The force has already admitted that the overtime bill in relation to the stand-off came in at a huge £326,903.

In response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, the PSNI also admitted that the Tactical Support Group was deployed to the scene on five occasions between February and June this year - an operation involving a total of 119 officers.

A spokesman said the force paid £28,000 in overtime to the officers deployed during the Tactical Support Group operations.

Protesters also asked the PSNI to reveal how much it cost to deploy the police helicopter in the Woodburn area during the time of the protest.

However the FOI officer responding to the query said the Air Support Unit was not sent to Woodburn between April 28 and June 3.

The PSNI also said its workforce scheduling system had recorded 18,686 manpower hours, but admitted that the figure may not be accurate.

Dr James Orr, from Friends of the Earth, demanded an urgent inquiry into what he described as an "expensive waste of vital police resources".

He said he believed that the manpower costs must have amounted to at least £500,000, with a total policing bill of more than £1m.

Protesters set up a camp at the entrance to the forest as they campaigned against a consortium led by the company InfraStrata that was carrying out exploratory drilling close to a reservoir that supplied drinking water to much of Belfast.

The consortium withdrew the drill from the site last month after no oil or gas were found in the 2km deep borehole.

Dr Orr said: "No one can understand why the Tactical Support Group were there or why there were days when more than 20 police cars were deployed.

"So many police officers told us of their support for the campaign, and they also expressed concern that they were not upholding the public interest at Woodburn Forest.

"It is sad to say that the police did not keep the peace at Woodburn, and lessons need to be learned for the future."

The PSNI gave no response by the time of going to press.

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