Anti-fracking protesters 'tried to breach' Preston New Road site

Police said a 'significant' response was needed at the Preston New Road fracking site on Saturday.

Police have blamed out-of-town protesters for an incident that has reportedly seen more than 100 people try to make their way on to the Preston New Road fracking site.

A peaceful anti-fracking rally took place at Maple Farm before a 'significant' number of protesters made their way to the site where exploration company Cuadrilla wants to drill four wells and test frack for deep-lying gas, Lancashire Police said.

Organisers say around 500 people attended a peaceful rally at Maple Farm

Officers closed Preston New Road on Saturday afternoon while they dealt with the situation.

In a statement, the force said around 150 people tried to breach the fracking site. Their actions have been condemned by pro-fracking groups, while several people claiming to have been at the site have questioned the official figure on social media.

A police spokesman said: "Those engaged in the behaviour are largely thought to be from outside the area and not from the local protest groups."

No arrests have been made following the incident on Saturday, but police say they are investigating.

Police investigating the incident at the shale gas site on Preston New Road say local protesters were not responsible

Frack Free Lancashire said the police statement was ‘factually incorrect’.

A spokesman added: “Around 15 to 25 individuals accessed the site of their own accord via an already-present breach in the hedge.

“Frack Free Lancashire is disappointed with the number of officers deployed by Lancashire Police, the use of police resources and the closing of roads when it was unnecessary to do so.”

Barbara Richardson, one of the rally organisers, said: “Only a handful of protestors tried to get onto the field in an impromptu protest probably borne out of frustration.”

Protesters are unhappy with Cuadrilla's plans to drill for shale gas in Lancashire

Organisers of the rally at Maple Farm said more than 1,000 people attended. The event ended at 2pm at which point, police said, a large number of people made their way towards the shale gas site.

In a statement issued on Saturday afternoon, Lancashire Police said: "Following an earlier event at Maple Farm badged as a national day of anti fracking action, a significant number of protesters believed to number around 250 made to the Cuadrilla site on Preston New Road.

"Around 150 of those proceeded to try to breach the fencing and to gain access to the site.

"A significant policing response was required to prevent disorder while maintaining the right of those who wished to protest lawfully. This was done calmly and professionally by the officers involved."

The protesters' actions were condemned by Cuadrilla chief executive officer Francis Egan, who said: “Organisers of the anti-fracking rally held at Maple Farm, Preston New Road, claimed they wanted a peaceful demonstration. This has been very far from the case.

"We have seen dozens of activists aggressively breaking through fencing to trespass on the local farmer’s land site causing damage to equipment.

"We have also seen distasteful intimidation at the local farmer's home where he lives with his family.

"This is unacceptable, irresponsible behaviour which has resulted in road closure, disruption to the local community and landowner and the need for significant police force resource. The unacceptable face of anti-fracking activism is clear for all to see.”

Local farmer Tim Laycock said he was ‘disgusted’ with the actions of ‘extremist outsiders’. He added: “The behaviour is absolutely despicable.

“The police, magistrates and other authorities need to get a grip on this right now.”

Local resident, Claire Stephenson, of Preston New Road Action Group, said the initial event at Maple Farm was 'brilliant' and the support from around the country was 'heartening'.

She added: "We had a really lovely event and then a water blessing afterwards.

"Our event ended at 2pm so we can't comment any anything after that. Our message is peaceful protest."

But she said she could understand the frustrations of those who continued on to the fracking site, adding: "The feeling of anger won't go away. You can't really say how people will react."

National direct action group Reclaim the Power posted on Twitter: "Today we've drawn a new red line in the ground. Resistance against fracking at Preston New Road will escalate over the coming weeks/months."

A Lancashire Police spokesman added: "No arrests have been made at this time, although an investigation will follow to identify any criminality.

"Our approach is always to ensure a consistent and coordinated policing response and ensure a balance between the rights of people to lawfully protest, together with the rights of the wider public, including local businesses, to go about their lawful activities.

"We aim to prevent, where possible, crime and disorder, but where it does occur we will provide an effective, lawful and proportionate response."

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