I am an 85-year-old woman, and I have been protesting fracking in Lancashire for four years. You might think this an unusual pastime for someone of my age. But I’ve been proud to be part of a community of Green Party members, local residents and anti-fracking campaigners, young and old, who week after week go to that very roadside.
We do it because we want the world to know we said no to the drills set to destroy our environment as they extract gas. The protests have been peaceful. They involve slowly walking in front of lorries taking away contaminated water, or standing or sitting in the road.
On Monday 9 October, I was sitting on the side of the road when I was astonished to see a heavy goods vehicle swerving towards me. It came extremely close, and with no police warning whatsoever I managed to retreat a little.
A young man standing next to me was hit in the chest by the vehicle, which continued unashamedly into the entrance of the site. That was when we made the decision to sit down in the bell mouth of the entrance. We felt extremely angry, and that several people could have been killed or seriously injured. This was when the police officers came over. I absolutely refused to move, and that’s when they decided to heave me off my seat and drag me across the road.
When I was a child, I saw police officers as friendly faces. I was taught they were to be respected and trusted. So it is with great sadness I say today that the only violence I have seen at the Preston New Road site has come from the police and security services – with aggression escalating week after week.
Friends who protest alongside me have been pinned to the ground by their neck, pushed against vehicles and frequently manhandled. It’s frightening. And it undermines the role of the police: to protect the public. Some police authorities are publicly refusing to help. North Wales has withdrawn reinforcements which were helping to police the site, with police and crime commissioner Arfon Jones saying: “Let them pay for their own security.”
My brush with the police at Preston New Road shook me – but I am determined it will not stop me. On Wednesday 11 October, I returned to the site.
The community in Lancashire said no to fracking at every opportunity and we will continue to do so. We know we need to get off fossil fuels as quickly as we can to avert the worst effects of climate change, and we know fracking compromises our air, soil and water.
That’s why we campaigned to make sure Lancashire never granted Cuadrilla planning permission to drill our natural world. And it worked. The local authority denied permission for fracking, but Westminster ignored us, and waved the licence through anyway. Now Cuadrilla plans to start fracking by the end of the year. That’s why we’re coming out every single Monday to protest this ludicrous dash for gas that threatens our natural world, our climate and our future.
And we’re not alone. Over the summer, public support for fracking fell to an all-time low of 16 per cent. At the same time, renewable energy generation set a new record in UK this year, providing 30 per cent of electricity generated in second three months of the year, and the cost of onshore wind is falling fast.
So I don’t want you to feel sorry for me. I want you to be angry. I want you to be angry at a company like Cuadrilla, which puts profit before local concerns about the environment. I want you to be angry at policing tactics which clamps down on the clear wishes of local people, and the right to protest. And I want you to be angry at a government which makes nice noises about the climate with one breath, and forces fracking on communities with the next.
They might have tried to bully me away, but they’ve just made me even more determined to end fracking for good. I’ll be there next Monday. I hope to see you there too.
A Lancashire Police spokesman said: “No complaint has been received about this matter but we will review our tactics, as we constantly do in any event, to ensure we are adhering to best practice. If anyone does wish to complain they can do so by visiting our website.”
A Cuadrilla spokeswoman said: “We work closely with all our suppliers to ensure that vehicles entering and leaving the site do so safely. We have seen numerous incidents of protesters endangering their own, lorry drivers’ and other road users’ safety by seeking to illegally block vehicles entering or leaving the site. The right to lawful protest does not and should not override others right to work safely and without harassment ”