Tag Archives: Barton Moss

Police were not doing their duty at Barton Moss

At Manchester and Salford Magistrates’ Court on the morning of 9th May, PC Genge was on the stand. We watched video footage of him and other officers pushing people along Barton Moss Road. At one point Genge’s fist was in the small of a protector’s back. The day before, an officer two ranks above Genge said a fist in the back would constitute unreasonable force under the circumstances. Genge disagreed.

The circumstances were that protectors from Barton Moss camp, other anti-fracking activists and local people were doing the usual slow walk ahead of a convoy of trucks on their way to the IGas exploratory drilling site at the end of Barton Moss Road. On this occasion, unusually, the Tactical Aid Unit (TAU) and their ‘robust’ policing methods were unleashed on us almost immediately.

Within just a couple of minutes two arrests had been made – Rosie and Bear, both of whom had said they didn’t intend to do anything that would warrant arrest. Rosie was arrested by Genge; Bear by PC Sullivan. Fifteen minutes later I was arrested (perhaps because I didn’t follow an order to “walk through” the person in front of me). A few minutes later, Kate was on the floor in the mud being handcuffed by two officers (one of whom was Genge – he seemed to be everywhere that day).

That was 27th January. Fast forward to 8th May and the four of us arrested that morning were in court on charges of obstructing a highway and obstructing an officer in the course of their duty.

My arresting officer, Williamson, didn’t turn up – he was on holiday. So, my charges were dropped. Three months of traipsing to court, talking to lawyers, applying for legal aid, appealing against the decision not to give me legal aid, getting legal aid, making witness statements, searching through video footage, identifying and tracking down potential witnesses, swotting up on legal terminology, wasting time and energy… and then he goes on holiday and the prosecution drops the case.

For Rosie, Bear and Kate the charges of obstruct highway were dropped but obstruct PC was retained; and in each case the named PC was Genge. Not only did he seem to be everywhere, but he kept getting himself obstructed.

During cross examination Genge wouldn’t make eye contact with Rosie, who was defending herself and so had chance to question his actions. When she asked him to demonstrate how to walk forwards while pushing backwards, even the judge cracked a smile. When we watched footage of him violently grabbing and pushing Kate to the ground, a murmur rippled through the court. Rosie’s penultimate question was about Genge’s facebook post referring to “shoving protesters down Barton Moss Road” (he denied having made any such post), and her closing question was “Do you know that you’re widely considered to be a thug?” (I think that one was rhetorical, though entirely true – over the last six months, Genge had become notorious amongst Barton Moss protectors for his aggression.)

Bear’s barrister (Richard Brigden) and Kate’s solicitor (Emily Lloyd) clarified a few points and it became clear that despite paying lip-service to the facilitation of peaceful protest, Genge thought his primary purpose on 27th January was to get the trucks to the IGas site as quickly as possible. The judge reprimanded him for trying to evade questions. Despite this, he seemed confident. Over- confident.

The next witness was PC Sullivan, Bear’s arresting officer. We watched film of Bear attempting to de-arrest Rosie before being grabbed around the collar, hauled off and handcuffed. Sullivan – in stark contrast to Genge – made eye contact, smiled, thought about his answers and made a point of saying that Bear was not aggressive or hostile towards him. Sullivan was not kept on the stand for long.

Film: morning of 27th Jan including all four arrests

Next came barrister Richard’s half-time ‘surprise’. This sounded complex and convoluted, but in essence was exactly what we’d been saying all along. It went something like this:

  • We now know that Barton Moss Road is not designated a highway but a public footpath and private road. On 27th Jan this was suspected but hadn’t yet been tested in court, so the police were still acting as though it was a highway.
  • As it wasn’t a highway, we can’t have been obstructing it.
  • Both Genge and Sullivan said they were arresting people for obstructing the highway, and that their use of force (pushing) was lawful because they had a duty to prevent obstruction of the highway.
  • If there was no highway there could be no obstruction, so there could be no duty to prevent obstruction, so there could be no lawful use of force.
  • If the police were unlawful in their pushing us down the road, then they were outside the remit of their duty, so we could not be obstructing them in the course of their duty.
  • If we weren’t obstructing them in the course of their duty then there were no grounds for arrest.
  • And if Rosie was being first pushed and then grabbed and arrested unlawfully (ie assaulted), then Bear was entitled to intervene (this latter part about the right to intervene depended on relatively recent case law – ‘Cumberbatch’ – which Richard presented to the judge).
  • If all of the above, then there’s no case to answer for any of the defendants.

Both prosecutor and judge needed a little time to check the lawbooks and case law at this point, so we had an hour of hanging around on tenterhooks before being called back to court. The prosecutor then requested an adjournment, on the grounds that no submission regarding this argument had been put to him in advance. An inaudible, invisible wave of despair washed around the room. No, no, let’s get on with it and get this over! We don’t want to be back here again next week…

Richard argued that little of what he’d said was genuinely new; that just as he’d worked it out for himself, so too could the prosecutor have done.

The room held its breath. Barton Moss Protectors are usually a rowdy crew but the eight or so crammed into the tiny public gallery were pin-droppingly quiet.

The judge said no. No adjournment.

The room breathed out.

The prosecutor turned on his smoothest, most melodious tone of voice. In that case, he would do his best with what he had.

He tried to make out that the use of force was reasonable, because regardless of the highway issue, we were in the way. He referred to the back-up of traffic on the A57, the dangers involved in allowing these heavy vehicles to back up, and the rights of the truck drivers to drive and deliver.

The judge said no.

I wasn’t sure I’d heard him right.

He said no, the force used was not necessary, not justified, not reasonable. The protesters were moving, albeit slowly. The protest was peaceful. No breach of the peace was imminent. There is a right to peacefully protest. There is no minimum speed limit for walking. Fracking is a contentious issue, protested against wherever it happens. The convoy was only delayed, not stopped for good. The obstruction on the A57 could have been dealt with by usual police procedures for such matters (and perhaps it was). Barton Moss Road was not a highway (though the officers may have thought in all good faith thought that it was). The TAU officers were not acting lawfully, they had no duty or right to push us, they were in fact assaulting us. We were not obstructing the highway, nor the officers in the course of any lawful duty. Case dismissed.

We were right all along.

We were ALL free.

What this means for future trials we’re not yet sure. The barrister was quick to point out that this isn’t a legal precedent that means all other cases will be dropped. Additionally, once it was confirmed in law that Barton Moss Road is not a highway, the police began arresting for Aggravated Trespass. Still, things are looking good for protectors so far.

The Salford Star has more reports of trials, cases dismissed and protectors found to be innocent. Plus, the possibility of an enquiry.

court

Barton Moss Protectors outside Manchester and Salford Magistrates’ Court after the verdict

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I’d rather be a hobbit than an orc

Being at the Barton Moss Protection Camp is like being at sea. There are tides, surges, waves and ripples. Calm periods and storms. There’s always the risk of losing a friend overboard. On Monday I was one of those lost to sea, lost to the GMP.

GMP = Greater Manchester Police. It was actually a Tactical Aid Unit (TAU) officer who arrested me – I now know that the TAU have blue tucked-in trousers rather than the straight black slacks of the local police uniform, and they’re much meaner.

——*——

Solidarity Sunday is all calm waters. Several hundred people mass in a muddy carpark, some tumbling out of coaches after long journeys, from Sussex and Somerset and Scotland, to cheers from the earlier arrivals. Another, smaller, group meets at a local pub. We all walk towards the rally at the end of Barton Moss lane, in high spirits despite rain. The lack of police is notable. There’s no one here to facilitate our protest. At first we take over two lanes of the four-lane dual carriageway, the A57. Then we spill into three lanes. Then we realise there’s nothing to stop us blocking the road entirely – no cops, no road cones – and we stroll into the fourth lane. Some of the cars we’re holding up are filled with beaming people giving us thumbs up and honking their solidarity. Others, grim faced, rev and try to push through our ranks. I’ve never been on a march or procession where pedestrians take over a major road without any police presence. One woman is hit, but not seriously hurt, by a van.

At the rally there are welcomes to the protectors from far-off towns and camps. Messages from supporters in Greece, in Afghanistan. Then songs. Then we head along the lane to camp. Someone’s brought along a gigantic pan of spicy soup. An abundance of other food has been donated. This and the cardboard signs – “I am a local”, “I’m a local and I don’t want fracking” – give the lie to media attempts to divide local residents from those who’ve travelled to protect the Moss.

Most of the day trippers melt away home as afternoon turns to early dusk, but some of us stay on. There’s a party atmosphere around the campfire; drums compete with songs and for a few moments I’m dancing in the road. Later I join a meditation for global peace, in a red and yellow geodesic dome warmed by a smoky woodstove. As we shake ourselves and stretch after a half hour’s silence, a shout goes up and it’s the evening iGas shift change and protectors move into the road to slow the convoy of workers as they leave the fracking site. Now there are police.

There’s singing and chanting – “I’d rather be a hobbit than an orc” – and dancing in the narrow lane, in the flickering light of campfire flames. It’s pretty tribal. There’s us, the colourful rowdy tribe, and the iGas workers, stony and grey in their cars, cut off from us, thinking what? Resigned to the slow crawl down the lane? Angry? Regretting taking this job? Hating us? I’d like to ask them but the police are separating us from them. The police are asking us to move, and we’re moving, but haphazardly, not with the purposeful slow march of mornings. There’s more of us than there are of them, unusually. A woman, small, with long brown hair, is dancing near me. She dances towards the cars, and then away, back towards me. But she’s not moving fast enough and she’s grabbed by a policeman and then she’s being dragged and then – uproar. I can’t see what’s happening but there’s shouting and anguished sounds and then she’s in the back of a police van and the tribe is outraged. They hurt her, people are saying. The police smashed her face and she’s bleeding, they say.

There’s a calmness even in the eye of the storm, even as the joy and exuberance of the evening turns bitter. A woman suggests we move out of the road and let the workers past, and we do. Then we escort the police van up the lane and some people are yelling at the police and others are walking a silent vigil. I return to the geo dome and make a nest of sleeping bags in a nook beside a shrine to the camp’s recently destroyed trees and treehouse (destroyed at police behest, for reasons not quite clear). I keep all of my clothes on, including my hat. I’m sharing the space with four others – one sleeping on an old sofa, one on a camp-bed, one upright on a dining chair and one in a coffin (a real coffin).

In the morning there’s time for tea and biscuits munched as I walk up the lane to the junction with the A57. It’s a drier day and there are perhaps twenty of us waiting for the lorry convoy. All in good humour. The police arrive, and then the trucks. There’s a short stand-off; a local man attempts to establish with some kind of superior officer (red lapels) what exactly is construed as a “reasonable pace”. It seems we’re to be allowed to walk “at a reasonable pace” but no definition of reasonable is forthcoming. The local man demonstrates the pace at which he intends to walk and it looks to me as though Red-Lapels concurs that such a pace would be both reasonable and legal.

We’ve barely set off before there’s two arrests. It happens quickly, there’s a yell, a surge, a sudden wave of fear and anger and pushing and stumbling and then we’re calm and walking again – slowly, but at a reasonable pace – just two members of the tribe down. Our original police escort is joined by additional cops, and now – but not then – I understand that these are TAU. Tucked-in trousers, flat hats and tough-guy attitude. They push us, harry us, try to hurry us. We’re moving faster than last time I did this walk. I’m calmer than last time though, no longer surprised by the pushing and goading and unwelcome touching from the police. I’m answering them “I am still moving forwards… yes, I am still walking… please don’t push me… take your hands off my back… I can’t walk any faster there’s someone in front of me… you said – one of you said – we can walk at a reasonable pace and that’s what I’m doing…”. I’m asked by an officer to “walk through” the person in front of me. I laugh at the absurdity of this order. Then that thing happens when you know they’ve set their sights… and I’m grabbed from behind and neatly pulled backwards through the police line and I forget to yell or let anyone know that I’ve gone.

I’m accused, arrested, for walking too slowly. They call it “obstruction”. I don’t struggle and yet I’m handcuffed, then searched, locked in a tiny cell in a police van, driven to a police station, searched again. My photograph, fingerprints, palm prints, DNA are taken. I consent – if I don’t consent, they’ll take prints and mouth swab by force, I’m told. Too late I wonder whether I should’ve refused. If I’m found innocent, will these be destroyed? I ask the operative. He says I can apply to have the DNA destroyed, although hardly anyone does because most people don’t ask and aren’t informed that they have this right. He’s not sure about the prints. I’m still innocent (“until proven guilty”, right?) and yet everything from this stage on is a petty battle, from being allowed to keep my boots and coat to getting lunch and, more seriously, gaining access to the solicitor I’ve requested. I’m only allowed to keep the boots because they’ve run out of plimsolls in my size. Turns out they want the boots because the cleaners are getting sick of the mud we countryside protectors bring in. The cells are cold. It’s worth hanging on to as much clothing as you can, or asking for replacements if they take yours away. My cardigan is confiscated, in case I try to hang myself by its woolly cord. Likewise, bootlaces. They try to take my nose ring but at that I balk, and win.

My cell’s surprisingly large, and clean. It’s bigger, in fact, than many of the places I’ve lived in. That makes me smile. I’ve managed to keep my notebook, pen and book. With these, a copy of PACE (the Police and Criminal Evidence Act codes of practice) collected at the custody desk, and a thin mattress to use as a yoga mat, I know I can entertain myself for at least 24 hours. There’s a loo but no toilet roll. Water for washing but not for drinking. PACE tells me I can request a drink every two hours. Once I’ve got a cup I’ve also got a vessel for washing. This is fine.

Some people kick their cell doors and shout and scream, others sing. I feel as though I’m in a film. I read PACE. Later there’s an attempt to fob me off with a duty solicitor. I’ve got my bust card and I know not to acquiesce. Through a port-hole in my ceiling I watch the sky darken. Time passes quickly. I keep asking to talk to the solicitor I’ve requested. Eventually a cheerful woman in normal clothes, no uniform, lets me out of the cell and tells me I’m going home. I think, for a moment, that she means I’m being released without charge, but when I get to the front desk the custody sergeant who checked me in rustles my charge sheet and the cheerful woman reads it out.

Aren’t I supposed to have talked to my solicitor before I get charged?”

Consternation.

Yes, I am. A number is called, a phone thrust across the desk. I speak to the solicitor in public, in the reception area of the police station. I know this isn’t right, this should be a private conversation. We try, the solicitor and I, to get me released on unconditional bail but the sergeant’s not having it. I’m given a map of the areas around Barton Moss where I’m not supposed to go. I refuse to accept the map, the conditions, the bail. I’m innocent, why should my freedom of movement be curtailed? I ask for my Custody Record. The sergeant says I have to apply for that. PACE says otherwise. I get my Record and it’s peppered with errors. I leave my bail map on the station floor.

I have no idea where I am, how I’m going to get back to camp, where my belongings are, whether I’ll be arrested again when I get there. I’m shown to the exit by the cheerful plain-clothes woman. I press a button, step outside into a cold dark rainy Manchester night, and I’m greeted with hugs, cheers, tea, soup, donuts. The Barton Moss Protectors are here on arrestee support duty. The warmth I’m enveloped in brings tears to my eyes. I don’t know most of these people but they’re family now and I don’t need to worry about where I’m going, how I’ll get there or what will happen to me when I do. Everything is taken care of and I’m safe.

The next day, back in the real world, messages of support from family and friends flood in. Both of my sisters – beautiful, kind, non-political women – say they back me absolutely: “Fracking is evil,” says one, and the other writes “My eyes are now wide open. Stand united and keep on fighting this worthy cause, and Thankyou from all of us who can’t be there to support you.”

News reaches my mum at work: “Everyone in the office very impressed with your arrest”, she reports.

Ordinary people don’t want pollution, poisoned water that we have no disposal plan for, chemical-laced earth, toxic gases seeping into homes, earthquakes and climate change. The UK public is not impressed by rhetoric from politicians who have only their own interests at heart, and no compunction about lying to the electorate they’re meant to serve. No one – except the corporate boss set to make a killing by killing our land – thinks that bribing councils is a just or wise move.

Are we really winning this fight against fracking, and swinging public opinion our way, because we “wear exciting clothes”, as Owen Paterson claimed today in the Telegraph? Or might it be because we’re right… and it’s really fracking obvious that we’re right?

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Sunday Stroll in Salford (Barton Moss)

I thought we’d be lucky to get 50 people out to demonstrate about an environmental issue on a cold January day in Salford. About a thousand turn up. “They’re… normal people” I overhear someone mutter. Old, young, Salford families, Greens, union members, members of co-operatives, local residents, anti-fracking groups from other areas, environmentalists, grannies, kids, cyclists, musicians, health workers. A reasonable cross section of the 99%.

Plenty of creativity and humour has gone into the placards and banners we wave, as we walk a mile or so from the rendezvous point to Barton Moss. One lane of the A57 had been closed for us and we stream along it in festive mood, a procession more than a march, buoyed up by a strong sense of solidarity and community. Roughly 80% of passing cars beep in support of our Frack Off and Not for Shale messages – despite having been held up in a traffic jam on our account. One placard – “I’d rather be a hobbit than an orc” – rings very true for me. This and “Welcome to the desolate North… Now Frack Off!” are perfect rejoinders to nonsense peddled by pro-fracking politicians.

At a rally just up the lane from the Protectors’ Camp, we hear from members and supporters of the camp, including:

  • Local union reps, who say that profiteering by a minority at the expense of the majority is what we’re fighting here at Barton Moss – it’s bigger than environmental issues and its bigger than Salford, and we all need to work together;
  • A Campaign Against Climate Change speaker, pointing to the need to create climate-friendly jobs which will set up communities for a viable, sustainable future;
  • Vanessa Vine of Balcombe – a Sussex village which faced down the frackers in 2013 – who reminds us of the global nature of this struggle, and the brutality being faced by protesters and protectors in Canada and Romania;
  • Ewa Jasiewicz, of No Dash for Gas and Fuel Poverty Action, pointing out that investment in renewables now is the only way out of the fuel poverty trap of the moment, where the Big 6 energy companies are in a position to charge extortionate rates, filling their own pockets while risking the lives of the poor and turning a blind eye to climate change.

The crowds amble into Barton Moss Road as the rally comes to a close. Hundreds of us, strolling slowly on a Sunday afternoon along the lane where, on weekday mornings, police harrass and arrest protectors for walking at a similar pace ahead of the fracking trucks. There’s almost no visible policing today. Today, the police don’t feel the need to outnumber us 10:1 and shove us along the road “for our own safety”. Is it because they don’t want to show the ugly side of policing – the side which is about protecting corporate profits rather than people – to so many of their neighbours and peers, who are genuinely here to protect? If only a tenth this many people could turn up every day…

Past the camp we go, to the gates of the fracking site. There’s music, and dancing, and meetings between like-minded people. Someone’s cooked up a hearty soup and there’s a campfire to warm cold knees beside. This is what solidarity looks like. And we need more of this kind of thing!

A perfect summing-up from Carmen, of Occupy Manchester:

“Today one thousand people agreed that there is no social license for fracking – not locally or nationally or globally. We stand united for a frack-free planet [and for] investment in renewable energy, for all future generations and the planet Earth.”

Barton Moss Protection Camp, Barton Moss Road, Just off A57 next to Airport, Eccles M30 7RL

Barton Moss Protection Camp: Facebook 

Twitter: @BartonMoss

Frack Free Greater Manchester: website

Northern Gas Gala

Frack Off: website (great for background info)

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Barton Moss

BARTON MOSS ANTI-FRACKING PROTECTORS’ CAMP & THE ORANGE BUS BLOCKADE
Salford in the early hours of a December day, trapped in a sliver of damp earth between motorway and access lane. Barton Moss Protectors’ Camp. Pre-dawn, chilly, dawdling, waiting for the fracking trucks to arrive, waiting to slow-walk up the lane – the only peaceful protest the law is prepared to allow us these days.

Waiting, reading signs on the noticeboard outside the camp’s info point. Few awake as yet.

A woman runs towards us. “The big orange bus is up there! They need support up there!” She points towards the fracking site entrance.

We jog up the road.

There is, indeed, a big orange bus. It’s huge, very orange, and parked across the site’s entrance. It’s covered in ‘Frack Off’ and ‘Not for Shale’ signs. Just where the wind turbine blade was dropped off a couple of days earlier. So many large and generous gifts for the frackers, IGas.

Someone has set up camp on the roof of the bus. Someone else is locked on underneath. At least three people are inside, also locked on. A sign on the door says “Do not open this door, I am locked on, you will break my leg”.

A surge of excitement and solidarity floods through us. We wave and grin, gesture, thumbs up.Over the next few hours more and more cops turn up, until they outnumber us about 3:1. Local journalists arrive. The Salford Star guy is one of us, warming himself by our brazier. I make it my job to forage for twigs, to keep the fire going. Our legal observer and welfare crew keep an eye on those locked on, passing them warm things and food, while the baseball-capped ‘Protestor Removal Unit’ cops suss out the situation.

With two friends I temporarily resist the police instruction to leave the vicinity of the bus. We question their need to create a “sterile area”, their constant claims of “we just want to keep everyone safe”. Yeah RIGHT. That’s why you shoved a disabled guy into a ditch, breaking his leg in the process, just a few days ago, right here. We hold up proceedings for a wee while, then move away, not feeling that now is the time to push it and get arrested.

Eventually the power tools come out. Locks are broken, windows are smashed, ladders are hoisted and the bus-bound protectors are removed. Three are arrested. The two who were outside the bus look cold, shaky and exhausted. We whoop, holler, cheer our heroes. A breakdown truck manouveures into position, ready to tow the big orange bus away. A big orange sacrifice, gifted by Brighton.

A shout goes up “Down the lane! The trucks are coming in!” We dash back to the camp, get into a huddle and begin the slow walk in front of the fracking trucks. Police form their own huddle behind us and goad us, push us, poke us in the kidneys, get their hands on us and try to steer us, harry us, patronise us and shout in our earholes. They threaten to arrest anyone who complains too vociferously. A few years ago I’d have been shocked but it’s the kind of behaviour I expect from cops now. The baby-blue liaison cops are still going around with fixed grins, plaintively trying to explain that they’re the good guys; they’re not getting much traction. We shout out the numbers of the pushiest and our legal observers earnestly write down our complaints, walking backwards, keeping an eye on us as we stumble up the lane. They make me feel safer than I would if they weren’t there.

There aren’t enough of us. Too soon we’re at the gate, and funnelled off to stand impotent on the verge. Truck after truck after truck goes by.  A crane, cabins, a catering unit. Someone says the rig is in now. Trucks from North Yorkshire, trucks from Lincolnshire. We glare at the drivers, screaming with our eyes – “get out of your cab and come join us, you’re people like us!”. They drive into the fracking site. I feel as though I’m watching evil at work. Saruman wrecking Isengard. Two women are weeping. An 82 year old comforts them. Tears prick my eyes too. How can people be doing this? Why aren’t more people with us, trying to stop it? This isn’t just Isengard. It isn’t a story.

This is our future. Join us.

northerngasgala.org.uk/
frack-off.org.uk/

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