Welsh officers 'will not facilitate Cuadrilla's business', Police and Crime Commissioner says

Welsh officers will no longer be helping out at the site
Welsh officers will no longer be helping out at the site

The Police and Crime Commissioner for North Wales Police, Arfon Jones, said officers from the force will no longer 'facilitate Cuadrilla's business' in Little Plumpton.

Lancashire Constabulary had announced a 'number of other forces' were helping police Cuadrilla's fracking site in Preston New Road this month and next after protesters stepped up their presence there.

But Mr Jones, an environmental campaigner who fought to halt fracking plans in Wales prior to being elected, tweeted: "No more @NWPolice officers will be going to facilitate Cuadrilla's business in Lancs. Let them pay for their own security. #capacity"

When asked if he helped to 'bring this change about', he replied: "The decision was an operational one over which I have no say but I did make feelings known and may have influenced."

He later said in a statement: "I was told last week there would be no further deployments after I made representations around capacity issues in North Wales and questioned how could we justify sending officers to Lancashire in those circumstances.

“Why should officers from North Wales be sent to police and facilitate an activity where the activity is more or less unlawful in their own country?

“The decision not send any more officers from North Wales after this week may be down to a number of factors, my opposition only being one factor.”

North Wales Police currently has a sergeant and six constables helping out at the site for a second week, Mr Jones's office said.

Deputy chief constable Gareth Pritchard said they were there from Sunday, July 9 to Friday, July 14, and arrived back at the site yesterday, where they will remain until Friday.

"However, due to high demands in north Wales over the holiday season, we are unable, at this time, to offer any further support," he said.

"Colleagues in Lancashire are aware of and understand this decision."

The Welsh government has made its opposition to fracking clear, and the controversial practice can't be carried out in Wales without permission from natural resources minister Carl Sargeant.

Mr Jones said he was 'prominent' in lobbying the government to issue the moratorium, and will continue to fight to ban fracking completely.

"I have opposed fracking as I considered it a danger in many respects, but mainly because of potential pollution of water," he added.

Earlier this month, Lancashire Police said it had decided to police the Preston New Road site round-the-clock amid 'increased protester activity'.

Campaigners announced a month of action, which saw protesters 'lock on' using metal tubes, including inside vehicles, and climb on top of lorries, as Cuadrilla's main drilling rig was expected to arrive.

A Lancashire Police spokesman said the decision to police the site 24/7 was made to 'ensure the safety of protesters, Cuadrilla staff and members of the public,' and added: "Due to the need for extra resources, a number of other forces will be providing mutual aid in July and August'.

Earlier this year, the force said it was spending £450,000 a month on policing the site, which has been dogged by protests since work began there, and seen Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw voice his concern at the cost.

In a recent letter to new policing minister Nick Hurd, he wrote: "Your predecessor replied on April 18 to state categorically that there was no further resources available for policing fracking protests in Lancashire.

"However, since that letter we have seen a significant increase in both the size of the protest and the scale of the tactics used and the impact this is having on the local community.

"Since a 'month of action' was called for by a national protest group on July 1, we have seen 21 people 'lock-on' at the site, protester activity around the clock, the construction of makeshift towers at the site entrance and the A583 (Preston New Road) fully closed on three separate occasions but a contraflow needed in a further eight instances.

"This is a real concern as the road is an emergency service 'blue light' route.

"In response to this increase, Lancashire Constabulary have made the decision to move to a model of policing the site 24/7.

"This increase in policing presence has necessitated calling in mutual aid from other forces in the region and I understand there may be a need to move to a national call for assistance.

"This additional assistance comes, quite understandably, at an additional cost as officers need to be housed and fed while they are away from their home force as well as other associated costs.

"I am therefore urgently requesting that you review the decision made previously at the Department that no financial support can be provided from central government to Lancashire Constabulary."

Mr Grunshaw said in a statement today: "Officers are at the Preston New Road protests to ensure public safety, facilitate peaceful protest and keep the road open as much as possible to allow others, including Cuadrilla, to conduct their lawful business.

"The ongoing operation continues to put a strain on our resources and the move to 24/7 policing has required us to utilise mutual aid to call in support from other forces. This is an operational decision from our constabulary and whether other forces are able to support is a decision for them to make.

"The decision which led to this operation was made by the Government and due to this I continue to call on them to fund the costs for this ongoing operation. I met with Lancashire MPs in Westminster last week who agreed to write a joint letter to the minister in support of our claim that this should be centrally funded."

Cuadrilla, which has talked of the 'irresponsible and intimidating' behaviour of some of the protesters, who have in turned complained about police being heavy-handed, hopes its operation at Preston New Road will see gas flowing into the national grid next year.

Claire Stephenson from Frack Free Lancashire said: "With respect to the decision by North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner, Arfon Jones, he is absolutely correct on all of his stated points.

"Fracking poses significant risks to the community, public health, environment climate and so on. These risks cannot be mitigated.

"The fanciful idea that a publicly-funded service such as police forces from several counties should be responsible for facilitating a private corporation to operate in a community, is an outrage. Cuadrilla and other fracking companies need to realise that if they are unable to operate without police as corporate security, then their business is untenable and unsustainable."

A spokesman for Cuadrilla said: "We 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.

"We ask that those responsible for the activity put a stop to such reckless and aggressive behaviour which is unnecessarily causing more chaos and upset for locals and wasting valuable police resource.

"We and the companies and individuals that work with us have a democratic right to carry out our lawful work without any of our staff or contractors suffering intimidation.

"The right to protest should not supersede the right to work.”

Pat Davies from Preston New Road Action Group added: "Any policing bill should not be met by local people but by Cuadrilla. They should meet those costs in full.

"It's somewhat ironic to expect a police force from Wales to facilitate a frack site in Lancashire when the actual process in Wales is not currently allowed."