The Green party MP Caroline Lucas was arrested yesterday for her part in one of a series of anti-fracking protests which took place across the country. She was among several people arrested outside the gates of the energy firm Cuadrilla’s drilling site in Balcombe, West Sussex.
The day of action saw separate protests at the firm’s offices in Lichfield, Staffordshire; the offices of the PR firm Bell Pottinger, who represent Cuadrilla; the constituency office of the Paymaster General, Francis Maude, whose Horsham constituency includes Balcombe; and the home of George Osborne’s father-in-law Lord Howell, a former energy minister.
It was the first of two days of “mass civil disobedience” that campaigners have said they will carry out to protest at the used of the controversial method of shale gas extraction known as fracking, or hydraulic fracturing.
Police said around 25 protesters had been arrested in Balcombe by approximately 3.30pm. They began after a senior officer announced over a megaphone that the activists were obstructing a nearby industrial estate and must move to a designated area.
As she was led away, Ms Lucas said: “Along with everyone else who took action today, I’m trying to stop a process which could cause enormous damage for decades to come.
“People today, myself included, took peaceful, non-violent direct action only after exhausting every other means of protest available to us.”
Hundreds of protesters had gathered at the Balcombe site, bringing traffic to a halt and causing a half mile tailbacks before police closed the road. Four people lay down on the ground in front of the entrance, handcuffed together, as police officers blocked the way between the gates to the site and the growing crowd.
Superintendent Lawrence Hobbs of Sussex Police said: “As we have said from the very start of this protest operation, we are more than happy to facilitate peaceful protest, but those who are intent on criminal action will be arrested.”
Sussex Police said more than 400 officers had been deployed on the operation at Balcombe, with support from 10 other UK forces.
In High Holborn in London, the campaign group No Dash For Gas said six protesters superglued themselves to the glass doors of Bell Pottinger at 8am and deployed reinforced arm tubes to stop anyone else getting inside, while another climbed the building and unfurled a banner bearing the words: “Bell Pottinger – fracking liars.”
Cuadrilla said in a statement: “Protesters broke into our Lichfield office, harassed our staff and chained themselves to filing cabinets. The police are on site dealing with this. We condemn all illegal direct actions against our people and operations.”
About 20 protesters also gathered outside Francis Maude’s constituency office, with a spokeswoman for the group saying it was because “he refuses to listen to the concerns of the local people and stand up for their right not have their country destroyed by fracking.”
Lord Howell’s home was targeted because of the furore he caused by suggesting that drilling should go ahead in the North-east because of its “large and uninhabited and desolate areas.” Campaigners erected an estate-agent style “For Shale” sign outside and unveiled a banner which read: “Not in your back yard, Lord Howell? Frack off!”