Green MP arrested as Balcombe fracking protests grow

CAROLINE Lucas, the Green Party MP for Brighton, was arrested last weekend at Balcombe during mass protests against explorative drilling by the energy firm Cuadrilla which is seeking deposits of shale gas with a prospect of using the controversial fracking technique to extract the gas.

The Sussex village of Balcombe, 20 miles north of Brighton, has been the scene of growing protests since Chancellor George Osborne last month announced that fracking for gas-bearing shale rock would dominate the Government’s energy policy.

Fracking involves drilling very deep holes into the shale rock and forcing water, sand and chemicals into the hole to fracture the rock and release the gas. It is a risky procedure which can trigger earthquakes and lead to the gas contamination of water supplies.

On Sunday more than 1,000 protesters and village residents marched from Balcombe railway station to the test drilling site.

Caroline Lucas and her son were arrested as police were trying to disperse hundreds of anti-fracking demonstrators who blocked the B2036 between Balcombe and Cuckfield.

They had served a Public Order Act notice, saying the crowd might cause serious damage to property or disrupt the life of the community.

Earlier, campaigners forced their way into the company’s HQ in Lichfield, Staffordshire. Six activists also glued themselves to the London HQ of Bell Pottinger, Cuadrilla’s public relations company.

Cuadrilla had temporarily suspended operations at Balcombe after Reclaim the Power and activists set up a six-day camp near the site.

Reclaim the Power said four activists used locks and glue to attach themselves to another activist’s wheelchair outside the main gate at Balcombe while others blocked the road.

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas told James Pearce in Balcombe: ‘’I would be prepared to be arrested’’. She later told the press: “I’m in the privileged position of being able to put questions to the Government directly and arrange debates in Parliament, but still ministers have refused to listen.

“Despite the opposition to fracking being abundantly clear, the Government has completely ignored the views of those they are supposed to represent.

“When the democratic deficit is so enormous, people are left with very little option but to take peaceful, non-violent direct action.”

The campaigners said police “charged, shoved and kettled” a group including children, people in wheelchairs, pensioners and Caroline Lucas.

“This is an outrageously aggressive response to a day of principled civil disobedience,” said protester Ewa Jasiewicz. “All our actions have safety, dignity and respect at their core.

“Cuadrilla and the Government were desperate to discredit fracking opponents. We offered them no aggression so they are creating it themselves.”

About 20 protesters also demonstrated outside the constituency office of Horsham’s Conservative MP Francis Maude.

A spokesperson said they targeted Maude’s office because “he refuses to listen to the concerns of the local people and stand up for their right not to have their country destroyed by fracking”.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has added its voice to those opposing fracking over concerns that the drilling technique will harm wildlife. The charity said increasing oil and gas use would “scupper our chances” of meeting climate change targets.

The RSPB said that another Cuadrilla site, near Blackpool in Lancashire, could threaten pink-footed geese and whooper swans, as the drilling could cause disturbance to the birds.