04/05/2014 – AN UPDATE
iGas have completed their test drilling for the time being and currently there are no deliveries taking place to the iGas site. The article below relates to the duration of time between November 2013 and April 2014, however you still may find this to be of relevance and interest, especially considering that iGas are almost certainly going to attempt to return.
Based on my experiences on the protests at Barton Moss, I have decided to share some advice and information with regards to going down to Barton Moss footpath, in the hope I can offer practical advice to anyone who may be considering going and is interested or concerned about what to expect. Before my first visit down there, I felt much more prepared after being briefed on the logistics of the protest and what I was likely to encounter. It is important to note that despite the harrowing pictures and footage of police violence, not every day is like this. I’m not trying to defend GMP’s actions or suggest that this fact makes the brutality acceptable, but trying to be as honest as I can be. There is no such thing as a ‘typical day’ because police tactics vary and therefore so have my experiences, but there are some consistencies I have observed which I feel are relevant to mention.
Amongst the many reports, videos, and photos of police brutality and aggressive behaviour towards the public by GMP, it is unsurprising that some people who have thought about going down to show their opposition to fracking by way of peaceful protest, are now too scared to. This is an incredible shame and in my opinion it is entirely what Igas, the government, and GMP want – to put fear into the minds of people who are considering how to express their resistance. Petitions, demonstrations, sharing of information on social media, and forming local groups are all important ways to maintain and develop awareness of the issue, but the powers-that-be know that it is peaceful direct action which is most effective at delaying the operations from progressing – this is what costs them money and has a detrimental knock-on effect on profits and shares and the development of the industry. All the while, public knowledge about fracking increases.
The deliveries of equipment/water/radioactive fluids to the Igas site usually take place on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. There are two ‘walk-downs’ – one in the morning, walking the trucks in, and one in the afternoon, walking the trucks out. If you can make it on one of those days, try and get there by at least 8.30am. If you are driving, you can park in the lay-by or even on the footpath itself, there is usually plenty of room if you park on the side of the footpath. You may arrive earlier and find that only a couple of members of the public are waiting at the entrance to Barton Moss road. Depending on what time you arrive, you might see the police presence increasing as the arrival time of the lorries approaches.
The police personnel in blue bibs are ‘Police Liaison Officers’ – these are the ‘smiley faces’ of the police, specially selected for their ability to communicate with people (unlike their TAU colleagues) and they might cheerfully ask you where you are from and what your plans are for that day, especially if they haven’t seen you before. I am wary of them, as they are there for no other reason than to ‘sniff out’ and gain intelligence using their bubbly ‘I’m your best friend’ façade. A bit creepy really. They claim to be all about making sure you are safe, then when it comes to it they are nowhere to be seen when you want to ‘liaise’ with them and ask why they are not reacting to their TAU colleague beating up an innocent person. By all means talk to them; just be wary of the fact that whatever details you tell them, whether it is your age, name, where you are from, your business and information will all be fed back to their superiors. Just like you might not tell a stranger off the street, you don’t have to tell them, or any police, for that matter, anything.
Generally you will see the arrival of TAU (Tactical Aid Unit) vans, and as you look around and see a handful of people, you might wonder why such a presence is required. The TAU police are recognisable by their flat caps, knuckle-weighted gloves, boots and blue trousers. If you see a TAU officer smiling, showing humility, or acting like a human being in any way, do try to get a picture, it could be worth something.
You will see the convoy of lorries arrive, and the police (usually the PC’s or ‘bobbies’) will form a line in between the front of the lorry and the group of people. In my experience, the police will then read out something about how you may be liable to be arrested if you do not move as you will be committing an offence of ‘aggravated trespass’. (This used to be a warning of ‘obstructing the highway’ until it was ruled in court that it was indeed a footpath, then the police had to
make something else up change it.)
If you happen to get there a bit later, there might still be time for you to catch up with the protest. There will be a police presence at the entrance of the road even after the walk-in has started, but don’t feel you have to stop and explain what you are doing – feel free (because you are) to catch the group up if you’re able to. If a police officer asks you what you are doing you can inform them you’d like to join the protest and if they’re feeling helpful they might assist you in doing so.
So, on with the walk-down…keep in mind that you have the right to utilise this public footpath, whether as a pedestrian or someone participating in a protest, and that there is no law which states a minimum speed limit on a public footpath. The other facts remain – the police are there to facilitate the protest, not determine what it is. It is your human right to peacefully protest.
For my own protection, and of those around me, I, along with most others, always have my camera switched on and filming during a walk-down. I know I will not be breaking any laws, and this films any interaction with the police, giving me the protection of valuable evidence should I be accused otherwise. If you witness a police officer assaulting someone, or doing something you see as wrong, make sure you note their collar number either on film or say it out loud for the benefit of the tape. You have every right to film, and so do GMP, so try not to feel too intimidated or worried by their imposing fancy cameras.*
Barton Moss footpath varies in ground surface and there are a number of large potholes in places, so do be careful underfoot. Depending on the tactics that day, the police might periodically shout ‘keep moving please’, perhaps every few seconds. Expect some banter and friendly conversation between some of the police and the public, but you might notice how the atmosphere can change within minutes depending on the individuals there on the day and the tactics employed. For your first time on the walk-down, I recommend you stay near the front of the group of people walking forward and give the police a wide-berth, this way you will be able to see, hear, and get a feel of what is going on, without feeling too ‘caught up in it’ or too much pressure from the police to ‘keep moving’.
If you feel comfortable on the back line, as in, right in front of the police, and you feel any degree of assault on your person, you can inform them that you are indeed moving and if you feel their hands on your back or their feet on the backs of your legs, you can ask them not to kick or push you. I have been told on numerous occasions that if I walk ‘too slowly’ I could be arrested for ‘obstructing a police officer’ – I reply that they are free to walk around me if they wish to.
On some days, if GMP decides we, as in, the public, are being too slow in walking the footpath, the TAU police suddenly join the line. Yes, you read that right. The riot police are deployed to confront those who dare walk a public footpath. This is when it can get ugly. From the moment they join the line it turns from a slow walk-down into a dangerous and hostile situation. There are no guarantees with the TAU, and they have absolutely no qualms in pushing or shoving people, or as sadly proved, much worse. It is almost as if they are robots, with no capability of empathising or communicating with the very public they are supposed to be there to protect. If this is your first time, stay away from them. It is up to you, and your choice, but I thoroughly recommend not giving them the opportunity to use their testosterone-fuelled aggression on you. There is a high chance you will be shocked by their behaviour. They don’t care if you are peaceful, an elderly lady, a child, or if you are walking without stopping. They are out-of-control, and not to be trusted. I could easily sugar-coat the TAU aspect of this situation, in order to not make it seem as bad, but I’d rather anyone going for the first time goes down there equipped with knowledge of the true reality.
- It is vital to stay calm and remain peaceful. You have the right to express your dissatisfaction, but do not give them any kind of physical reaction. I have found myself shouting at the police or angrily asking them why they are pushing me when I am continuing to walk and have not stopped, but I have never, and would never, use any kind of physical or violent force towards the police. I have never witnessed anyone else there doing that either. Doing so would land you in big trouble, and give the police a reason to justify their over-the-top and disproportionate presence. As the top of the road approaches, expect to be herded or ‘kettled’ to the side of the footpath. Police will then form a line in front of everyone and spread their arms. The gates then will open and the lorries will speed into the drilling site. GMP’s work is done.
To summarise – stay peaceful, remain calm, and try not to be intimidated by people in the neon jackets. As long as you are peaceful, you are engaging in non-violent direct action, and that is your protest. Take a camera, whether it is your phone or a digital compact, and flick it on to film whenever you feel it is appropriate to, or as often as you can. Keep your distance from the police and stay aware of what’s going on around you.**
*If you are filming on your smartphone, an app called Bambuser is available. This is used to broadcast footage live and direct to the internet, so nothing is edited and the broadcast can be watched by the online audience. For your first time down there you might want to concentrate on what’s going on rather than filming on your mobile, but maybe consider live-streaming another time as it is invaluable to be able to document the activity in video format and show others exactly what’s going on at that very moment whilst at the same time protecting yourself.
**This is written as a guide based on nothing but my own personal experiences. It is intended to give people an idea of the type of environment and activity to expect. It is not a guarantee of your safety or the behaviour of the police – I encourage you to take my words into consideration but ultimately, go down to Barton Moss and make your mind up for yourself.