Tensions at Britain’s most high-profile fracking site have risen following an increase in violent clashes between protesters, security guards and police. One demonstrator said she had been left unconscious following a “pretty brutal” scuffle with security officers on Wednesday, and another activist fell from his wheelchair, the same day, when police officers pulled him out of the way of a 40-tonne lorry.
Both protesters said they planned to report the incidents that had occurred – at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site, near Blackpool – to the Lancashire police.
The skirmishes came as anti-fracking activists and the energy firm Cuadrilla accused each other of “increased aggressive” acts in the years-long battle over the 1.5-hectare (3.8-acre) plot near Little Plumpton, one of the firm’s sites for shale gas exploration.
Hundreds of protesters have demonstrated outside the site since last October, when the government overruled Lancashire county council and gave Cuadrilla the green light to begin drilling.
Scuffles between protesters and security guards increased from the start of July as activists marked what they call a month of “rolling resistance”.
Katrine Lawrie, 39, said she was knocked unconscious and taken to hospital on Wednesday after allegedly being pushed by a security guard as she tried to protect other protesters carrying out a “lock-on” with objects constructed from plastic, bitumen and concrete. “They’ve been getting increasingly more violent and aggressive over the last few weeks and every day it seems the aggression and violence seems to ramp up. It’s outright assault,” she said.
Hours later footage circulated online showed another activist, Nick Sheldrick, a former naval officer, being tipped backwards from his wheelchair as police tried to move him away from an approaching haulage truck.
A Lancashire police spokesman said: “His welfare was addressed at scene by officers and at this time no complaints have been made by the individual concerned. Our first priority is to keep campaigners and everyone else at the site safe and this will remain paramount.”
Francis Egan, chief executive of Cuadrilla, said the “charade of a so-called peaceful protest should be condemned and halted”, and that the right to protest should not override the right to work.
He added: “I strongly condemn the increased illegal and aggressive behaviour of activists which has put all road users near our Preston New Road site at serious risk. The majority of these irresponsible individuals are from outside the local area and seem determined to use regular disruption to local road users, and abuse and violence towards police and security staff, as so called direct action tactics.”