Police reduce fracking operation
Police have begun to scale down their operation at an anti-fracking protest site in West Sussex after four weeks of demonstrations.
Many of the activists which descended on Balcombe to protest against an exploratory drilling site recently opened by energy company Cuadrilla have now left the area, Sussex Police said.
A force spokesman said about 120 people are estimated to still be at the roadside camp on London Road at the entrance to the location, while most people had left the Reclaim The Power camp a mile down the road by midday.
No Dash For Gas, which organised the camp, said they would continue to support the people of Balcombe and would return to the area in the future, calling the campaign a "marathon" not a "sprint". Protesters believe the drilling could lead to fracking, which they claim imposes environmental risks including water contamination and small earthquakes.
On Wednesday around 20 officers stood outside a gate being used by lorries to gain access to the area as protesters walked in front of the vehicles making their way along London Road. Superintendent Lawrence Hobbs said: "We have known this would be a long-running policing operation and, while we are scaling down, we still expect to need a presence at the site for a number of weeks."
Police used powers under Section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act to remove people from a smaller camp to the north of the site, where fireworks and drugs have been seized, and where the landowner reported being threatened when asking the campers to leave voluntarily. About 20 people were served notice and evicted, with others leaving before being asked.
Mr Hobbs said many officers and staff had worked longer shifts or cancelled days off and the force had called on mutual aid from colleagues elsewhere in the UK. Using additional resources and extending working days were not steps Sussex Police had taken likely, due to costs and concern for its officers and staff, he added.
He said the force had achieved its main priority of ensuring safety. "We will continue to investigate the offences people have been arrested for and our Professional Standards Department will look thoroughly into a small number of complaints received," he said.
"I ask everyone to be mindful of the residents of this small village. When speaking to me and my officers they have outlined a whole range of personal views on the situation, but have been overwhelmingly consistent in saying that whatever the views of others, they do not support criminality in expressing them."
Yesterday eleven anti-fracking protesters appeared in court and pleaded not guilty to causing disruption at the site in a string of different incidents earlier in the protests. Among them were three defendants accused of locking themselves to a fire engine outside the site, while others are alleged to have blocked the road, Crawley Magistrates' Court heard. All were released on bail and the case adjourned for a pre-trial review in October.