Frack protesters 'aim to disrupt'

The majority of people arriving at a long-running anti-fracking protest are there to "disrupt and intimidate" the local community and "antagonise police", a police chief has said.

More than 80 people have been arrested at a drilling site in Barton Moss on the outskirts of Salford, Greater Manchester, with the figure rising "with each day of deliveries", police said.

Of the 82 people held, 62 are from outside the Greater Manchester area and many are from the south of England, according to Greater Manchester Police (GMP).

A number of those detained had been arrested previously at Barton Moss or other protest sites, the force said.

Chief Superintendent Mark Roberts said: "At the start of this protest the majority of protesters were peaceful and law-abiding but over the past couple of weeks local residents and officers have seen a distinct change to this.

"It now seems that the majority of people who are arriving at the site are not there to protest against fracking but are there to disrupt and intimidate the local community and to antagonise police."

Mr Roberts said the force had recorded offences of a ssault, damage, harassment of residents and workers, a flare fired at the police helicopter and threats to kill.

"I attended a residents' meeting last week and people there were close to tears and have had enough of this daily disruption to their lives," he continued.

"Locals, who initially supported the protesters, out walking their dogs and driving down Barton Moss Road have been approached by protesters in balaclavas and have been questioned by them, which has been extremely intimidating.

"We have seen a huge increase in the calls to police from that area and this is continuing.

"Officers are verbally abused on a daily basis, one has even been spat at and another officer required stitches to his hand after trying to get a protester down from a fence.

"The police are there to do a job and that job is to facilitate peaceful protest and to balance the needs of all parties, the residents who live there, businesses who operate from there and the protesters themselves."

Since November around 60 tents and caravans have sprung up along the farm track leading to the site, between Barton Aerodrome and the M62.

Police have been called on a number of occasions and made arrests as protesters have attempted to stop lorries entering by erecting blockades such as a giant wind turbine blade and a bus.

Environmentalists claim there is indisputable evidence that fracking causes air and water pollution and leads to earth tremors. The Government and industry say it is safe and will create jobs.

Mr Roberts said police were at the protest "to ensure that everyone remains safe" and it was not up to GMP "who operates on this land and who has access to it".

He added: "We are increasingly seeing protesters trying to jump in front of HGVs or jump down from trees on top of moving lorries - it is only a matter of time before someone is seriously injured if they continue to act in a reckless manner.

"We are working very closely with many partner agencies to try and resolve this emerging threat and issue to try and reassure the local residents who feel intimidated in their own homes from people who have travelled from all parts of the country to set up camp in Barton Moss."

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