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The fracking fightback: day one of the No Dash for Gas 'swoop' on Balcombe
The No Dash for Gas climate camp set up in a field on Friday just more than a mile south of a controversial drilling site.
The protesters famed for occupying a power station for a week have already forced energy firm Cuadrilla to scale back exploratory work near the village of Balcombe this weekend after threatening direct action.
Reporter Kimberly Middleton joined the ‘swoop’ from the train station which marked the start of the action.
IN the middle of a crowd of people stepping off a train from London to Balcombe at 12.21 was Dame Vivienne Westwood.
The petite fashion designer’s trademark bright orange hair stood her out amongst backpack-donning activists descending on the mid Sussex village.
After talking hairstyles and pigtails with a young girl she joined the march down to the site – previously visited by Bianca Jagger and where Natalie Hynde was arrested.
The site has been the focus for fracking debate after energy firm Cuadrilla – the only one to carry out the process in the UK – started test drilling two weeks ago.
There is currently no licence to frack on the site – a process which sees liquid pumped into the ground at high pressure to fracture rocks and release gas.
“I’m anti-fracking, that’s the first thing to say,” said Dame Vivienne. “And I definitely want to support the people here who are protesting against it.
“The whole country doesn’t want it either.
“David Cameron is trying to push this idea of a race and we have got to get on this band wagon. What is he talking about?
“People don’t even know if money can be made from this in the first place.
“We need a debate about it. It’s got nothing to do with the energy security of this country because that depends on renewables – but the problem is energy companies can’t make any profit out of renewables.
“It’s disgusting what the Government is trying to do. People are going to block it.
“The Government are going to look more and more isolated as people ask why they are trying to destroy the earth.”
Her confidence was echoed by her comrades who walked the route which wound down towards protesters who have been living on the grass verges outside the drill site for three weeks.
No Dash for Cash promised to bring together climate, anti-austerity and fuel poverty activists.
Ruth Cape travelled for two days from the Outer Hebrides to the camp.
“It was a long journey. But it is an important issue,” said the member of social justice organisation People and Planet.
“The key thing is about the bigger picture. If you wanted to do anything about climate change this is not the way to go about it.”
Natasha Langridge had travelled from Pulborough to fight for the “health and well being of our earth and people”.
Carrying a banner with her masked co-presenters from Milton Keynes was UK Collapse radio show presenter Ali Booden, whose show “monitors the collapse of industrial civilisation”.
But Eric Goode – who said he was one of many people in Balcombe who had never protested before – felt so incensed by what was happening he travelled from Wimbledon to be in the village.
“I have done some research on the internet and I’m really scared of this,” he said.
“You can’t believe everything you read – but if you believe even 50 per cent – that is scary enough for me.”
As the march reached the entrance of the drilling site – where work has been scaled back since the threat of direct action - 78-year-old Terry Hutt came into view.
He became known as the Umbrella Man after camping on a bench outside of St Mary’s Hospital for a week waiting for the arrival of the royal baby.
Representing disabled people and the elderly he said: “I have been living on camps like this for years – I believe in standing up for our rights.”
More than a mile south of the crowds outside the Cuadrilla drill site the No Dash for Gas camp is taking shape.
Ahead of a secret gig last night – rumoured to be alternative rock group Primal Scream – a marquee was erected in the centre of the field, described by organisers as a “legally squatted site”.
Owners the Borde Hill estate said the occupation of the land “was not anticipated”.
Estate manager Jonny Morris said: “They came on the land on Thursday night. We have let police know and they are taking appropriate action.
“We have had no conversations with them as an estate, but from looking on their website it looks like they plan to be there until the 21st and then plan to leave.”
The organised weekend includes a programme of talks and a carnival atmosphere on Saturday and Sunday – before ‘civil disobedience’ starts on Monday and Tuesday.
Jenny Nelson from London said everyone of the camp was mindful of working with local residents, after calls from parish council chairwoman Alison Stevenson for people looking to break the law to stay away.
“A lot of people said they have tried everything and have written to their MPs,” she said.
“It seems like people feel they have been left with no other option than to take to the streets and take more direct action.
“That’s why they have put out a call for assistance. That is what we’re here to do. We’re here to stop them in their tracks.
“But we absolutely don’t want to disrupt the local campaign. We are here to support them.”
Setting up camp were bicycle mechanic Eleanor Smith, who travelled from Oxford with her friend Dominic O’Donnell.
Eleanor said: “The Government is very unresponsive. This is the only way I feel empowered.
“As soon as you do something like this it’s the first time you feel better about a problem that feels otherwise overbearing.
“The alternative we are trying to demonstrate is we can live in a more sustainable way.
“We have to do that rather than going for broke on fossil fuel extraction and blindly following that pathway.”
She added: “Most of the time we don’t see where we get our energy from, coming through power stations.
“Environmental implications are in other countries, but with fracking they are now on our doorstep.
“Climate change is the challenge of our generation.”
Dominic spoke passionately about witnessing fracking in his home of Australia, he said where people have been “literally just breaking down and totally hopeless”.
He said: “They said it was going to be totally fine and people wouldn’t even notice. Then within a year the landscape was transformed.
“I have seen first-hand what it is like for people to live in a gas field and what fracking actually means for communities and all the effects.”
'Police should stand by us'
Nick St Clare
David Cameron could be charged with crimes if one protester gets his way.
Nick St Clare has asked Sussex Police to charge the Prime Minister with subverting the constitution, accessory for aggravated criminal damage of the environment and maladministration in public office.
But he said superintendent Lawrence Hobbs had failed to file the complaints and produce a crime reference number - so Mr St Clare also reported the officer for failing to record the crime.
Mr St Clare said: “Life is being endangered. Every police officer takes an oath to uphold the law.
“Everyone here is being arrested - but, in my opinion, the protestors are effectively upholding the police oath, which is to uphold the law.
“The police should stand by us.”
A Sussex Police spokesman said: “If someone wants to make a complaint about a Sussex Police officer they are welcome to do so through the usual channels.”
Policing costs reach £750,000
Policing the protest has cost more than £729,000 to date.
Figures released by Sussex Police yesterday breaks down to £65,867 on mutual aid from other forces, £20,940 on travel and subsistence, £4,000 on supplies and services, £79,853 on ordinary overtime, £425,745 on rest day working and salary costs of £132,791 of those directly working on the operation.
Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner, Katy Bourne, has also revealed that the Force will now seek help from central Government in meeting the growing bill.
She said: “Local taxpayers have a right to know the cost of this policing operation.”
Busy schedule for fracking activists
The four day action camp against injustice has a busy schedule.
On Saturday there will be workshops addressing Government cuts, fuel poverty, rights of protesters, digital campaigning and extreme energy.
On Sunday there will be introduction to direct action, talks about group dynamics and preparing for action, before action takes place on Monday and Tuesday.
Wednesday will see the site cleared and 'returned to nature'.
On Saturday Radio Free Brighton will arrange a bus ride from Brighton to Balcombe for an anti-fracking protest.
After a banner making workshop from 10am the Big Lemon Bus will transport people at 11.15am, where there will be a mile and a half march to the protest camp.
Soldarity Sunday will see local groups from threatened communities across the UK descend on Balcombe Community Protection Camp for networking, skill sharing and workshops before a march at 3pm.
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