”They drink tea, eat cake and from time to time burst into song.
The few dozen, predominantly retired, professionals at this very English protest hardly add up to a formidable force.
But on the fracking front line police are taking no chances.
At a time when forces up and down the country complain that they are struggling to cope because of budget cuts, North Yorkshire Police are facing accusations of mounting a ‘disproportionate’ and expensive show of strength.
Usually outnumbering – and certainly outmuscling – the grey-haired demonstrators, up to 50 police officers at a time are dealing with the protest.
The start of work to prepare for fracking at the Third Energy well at Kirby Misperton, near Pickering, has prompted the protests.
This week 12 people have been arrested, mainly for obstruction of the highway or a police officer.
Many of the protesters are pensioners who gather daily outside the site gates cum rain, cum shine to express their displeasure. They fear fracking – the controversial method of mining for gas and oil – poses a threat to this beautiful and unspoilt rural area. …
On Thursday around 30 were walking up the path to deal with protesters, although up to 50 are on site. Anyone who sits on the road to try to block the entrance gate risks being picked up by a uniformed officers and arrested. The trucks are escorted on to the site by two patrol cars and a police van packed with officers.
Sue Gough, 62, a retired teacher, said: ‘I have never protested before in my life. It is awful the way the policing has escalated. One of us was chased through Kirby Misperton by police and all he was doing was riding his bike.’
Jackie Brooks, 77, a great grandmother, was serving tea and cake from a stall beside the gates where protesters sang songs and strummed guitars. The former nurse said: ‘I don’t want this beautiful countryside poisoned by the chemicals they use.’
Another protester was Annabel Holt, 76, daughter of war hero Lieutenant Colonel Percy Legard, commander of the No 4 Commando strike force. ‘My father fought to save Britain from 1939 to 1945 and would have been against fracking,’ she said. ‘He fought for his country and I’m trying to do the same.’
Monica Gripaios, 66, claimed the force used by police has been ‘utterly disproportionate to the mood and actions of the peacefully assembled people’.
This week police have been dealing with between 30 and 60 protesters. Nine have been charged and a further two have accepted cautions. They include an 18-year-old woman, who has been charged with assaulting two officers.
Police insist they are acting responsibly. Superintendent Lindsey Robson said: ‘We have a duty to ensure people who want to assemble and protest do so safely, balanced against a duty to ensure that businesses can go about their lawful commercial activity.’
This week one of the country’s top officers warned that the police service is under unsustainable pressure due to the resources required to fight terrorism.
Sara Thornton, head of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, warned that officer numbers are at 1985 levels, crime is up 10 per cent on last year and police work has become ‘ever more complex’.
John Dewar, of Third Energy, said: ‘We look forward to running a safe and successful operation [at the site] that will be carried out with minimal impact on local residents and the environment.’
… When a lorry arrives, about every half hour at peak times, police advance up the remote country lane towards the protesters and force them on to the verge.”