Policing operation at Woodburn Forest
Chief Inspector Stephen McCauley on the policing operation:
“While the debate continues within the local community, amongst the wider public, and across the media, around the drilling operation at Woodburn Forest, from a policing perspective our objectives are clear.
“Our intention is to keep everyone safe, ensure there is no breach of the peace, and facilitate peaceful protest. As with many contentious issues, we find ourselves holding the neutral middle ground and that can be a challenging place. If we don’t take the time to explain our role then the debate moves away from the issues at hand and starts to focus on what the police are doing. I want to take this opportunity to explain the rationale behind our policing response to date and our intentions as we enter the final weeks of the drilling operation.
“We have a duty of care to those living in the local community to ensure that as far as possible normal life and normal business continues. We also have a duty of care to the employees of the drilling company to make sure they are able to carry out their lawful activity safely and without hindrance. And the same applies to those individuals and groups who wish to protest. We are there to protect their right to protest in a peaceful and lawful manner.
“Over the last few months we have seen protestors come from far and wide and their passion for and dedication to environmental issues is clearly evident however when that protest action goes beyond peaceful then a policing response is required. The majority of the protest activity to date has been well within the law however at times we have had to intervene and our policing response to those situations is based on a number of factors.
“On some occasions a conversation with the protestors and drilling employees has been sufficient however when tensions are running high and people commit offences then our response must be proportionate. We have made a small number of arrests with five people due to appear at court next month. We are also investigating allegations from both the protestors and company employees. These will be progressed fairly and impartially as with any investigation.
“Naturally operations like this with regular protest activity require a policing response over and above our regular duties. We are constantly reviewing the resourcing profile of police officers and the police numbers in the area to ensure we have enough resources to respond to all eventualities. There is no escaping the fact that this costs money and takes officers away from other duties but it is necessary to ensure that all activity at the site remains peaceful and lawful.
“The officers involved in the operation are continually talking and engaging with all interested parties. Keeping the lines of communication open is key to ensuring the safety of everyone involved and I would encourage those on both sides to keep those conversations going so that we can continue to move forward in a positive manner.”