Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Fracking protest: Green Party MP Caroline Lucas arrested

Caroline Lucas is among a number of protesters arrested after demonstrating against fracking
Caroline Lucas is among a number of protesters arrested after demonstrating against fracking

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas was among more than 30 people arrested when anti-fracking campaigners staged a series of protests around the country.

The arrests were made as hundreds of people gathered outside the gates of energy firm Cuadrilla's drilling site in Balcombe, West Sussex, to demonstrate against fracking yesterday.

Opponents of the controversial process for extracting shale gas also blockaded the headquarters of Cuadrilla, while others superglued themselves to a PR company used by the energy firm.

The series of protests and direct action marked the first of two days of "mass civil disobedience" which campaigners have pledged to carry out to highlight their stance against fracking.

The 29 arrests in Balcombe ranged from a 15-year-old girl from Brighton, to a 66-year-old man from Hythe, Southampton, with the majority for public order offences, including refusing to leave and obstructing a public highway, and breaching the public order act.

A 17-year-old girl from South Brent, Devon was arrested for possession of an offensive weapon while a 23-year-old man from London and 26-year-old from Lancaster were held for assaulting a police officer.

Ms Lucas said she was trying to stop a process which could cause enormous damage for decades to come, undermining efforts to tackle climate change and posing risks to the local environment.

"People today, myself included, took peaceful non-violent direct action only after exhausting every other means of protest available to us," she said.

"Despite the opposition to fracking being abundantly clear, the Government has completely ignored the views of those they are supposed to represent.

"When the democratic deficit is so enormous, people are left with very little option but to take peaceful, non-violent direct action."

The MP had been sitting with a crowd of protesters outside the entrance to Cuadrilla's Balcombe site for most of the day when she was marched away by officers and put into a waiting police van. Protesters also claimed that Ms Lucas's son had been arrested.

Sussex Police said protesters had been arrested as officers moved in to clear a large group of people in front of an emergency access to the site.

Officers spent more than hour removing the final seven protesters, whose arms were connected to each other through plastic tubing, from outside the gate. Each one was carried away by several officers to claps and cheers from the crowd.

A police spokesman said everyone arrested had been taken to custody centres across East and West Sussex.

More than 400 officers have been deployed on the operation at Balcombe, with support from 10 other UK forces.

Protest group No Dash for Gas accused police at Balcombe of "an extremely aggressive response" to the demonstration, claiming officers charged, shoved and kettled protesters, including disabled people and children.

Sussex Police said on Twitter that protesters were not being kettled and were free to leave the site as they wished.

No Dash For Gas also said 20 protesters shut down the Cuadrilla site in Lichfield by blockading it with their bodies. It said two people inside the building had also hung banners from it saying: "Reclaim the power" and "Power to the people".

Staffordshire Police arrested a 36-year-old woman from Middlesex on suspicion of aggravated trespass.

In London six protesters superglued themselves to the glass door of Bell Pottinger and deployed reinforced arm tubes to stop anyone else getting inside. Another activist climbed the High Holborn building and unfurled a banner bearing the words: "Bell Pottinger - fracking liars".

City of London police arrested six people on suspicion of aggravated trespass. Two of the six were also arrested on suspicion of criminal damage.

In a statement Cuadrilla condemned illegal direct action against its staff and operations.

Employees and the teams supporting the company's operations knew that what they were doing was "legal, approved and safe, and that shale gas is essential to improve our energy security, heat our homes, and create jobs and growth", it said.

"Cuadrilla is rightly held accountable for complying with multiple planning and environmental permits and conditions, which we have met and will continue to meet.

"Clearly we are held to one set of legally enforceable standards while some protesters believe that they can set out and follow their own."

In addition to protests against Cuadrilla, protesters targeted the home of former energy secretary Lord Howell, who caused a furore when he said fracking should take place in "desolate" areas of the north.

Activists said they had staged a demonstration outside the home of Lord Howell, erecting an estate agent-style "For Shale" sign and a banner which read "Not in your back yard, Lord Howell? Frack off!"

And around 20 protesters demonstrated outside Balcombe MP and Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude's constituency office, leaving a 16ft wind turbine blade which said "more wind" outside the building.

Opponents of fracking, in which water and chemicals are pumped into the ground at high pressure to fracture shale rock and release gas, fear it could harm water resources, cause small earthquakes and that development of the sites will cause noise and traffic.

Environmental campaigners also warn a new "dash for gas" will undermine efforts to tackle climate change and say the focus for energy development should be on low carbon power such as renewables.

But the Government has thrown its weight behind shale gas, claiming it will create tens of thousands of jobs, increase the UK's energy security and could bring down energy prices - a claim disputed by environmentalists and some experts.

Daniel White, 19, of no fixed address, will appear at Crawley Magistrates' Court on September 4 for using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour to cause harassment, alarm or distress during an incident in which private land next to the Balcombe site was accessed on Friday.

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