So today was a heck of a thing. Here's what works in this situation and what is fair, reasonable and stops far nastier tactics having to be employed... a line of protectors walks slowly in front of the arriving trucks causing delay but no harm or risk to safety. That's all. At Barton Moss and Balcombe the walks were long and so time taken was worthwhile... at Preston New Road though, the distance is literally measured in a few metres and so we aimed for a mere 15 minutes per vehicle - not a huge ask and certainly without risk.
Here's what happened today instead...
The opening salvos
Around 20 people arrived in time for the erection of the temporary traffic lights that reduce PNR to a single lane and allow for a short works-traffic lane to take the trucks. Harris Fencing is against the hedges over the site distance and traffic cones line the middle of the road to create the single lane... around 16 of us (nearly all female) placed ourselves between cones and fencing at a short distance from site entrance in readiness for the first truck and the slow walk.
At the moment the truck was in the works-lane, Cuadrilla-hired security guards (big chaps) grabbed at each of us as literally manhandled us away from the truck. Some of the women had never done anything like this before and the beauty was - their anger at the abuse made them strong and determined rather than worried... useful as the next thing that immediately happened was that the security and other staff started pulling and pushing the Harris Fencing around us and aiming for the line of cones. As they did this, we were backed up to the fences they were pushing at us... everyone of us was trying to avoid being pushed into the lane where real traffic was and at one point, the guards eased back then suddenly and forcefully shoved hard forward. The footage shows that each of us have a guard behind us who shoved into our backs. A disgusting start.
Fortunately not all the fencing was in place and we nimbly nipped back behind it as the guards suddenly realised they'd now actually ended up with us inside their little fortress lol! I sat down on the muddy bit at the site driveway - within moments we were a handful. The guards asked us to leave and we refused. Then the bargaining started between all parties and it was finally resolved with the help of skillful police negotiations that we would be able to slo-walk the next vehicle for 15 minutes and we'd assess how that went afterwards - all agreed as the alternative would by now have required picking up scattered women and that was going to be tricky, lengthy and altogether worse.
The good bit where we all got it right
The truck needed to reverse so we agreed a start point and a line of 13 women began a gentle shuffle - we agreed with guards that they would be against the truck and keep a distance of 2ft or so between them and us. Damned if it didn't go brilliantly! We conversed, we softened the tone, no-one got hurt, we all did what we agreed to do and at 15mins, we moved off. Bloody brilliant - I was hopeful now that these next few months would be less awful if we could all just get this done in a civil manner.
The REALLY bad bit when one truck driver completely lost control
Alas though the sense and wisdom evaporated with calls from Cuadrilla to put a stop to this. The police delivered the message that the guards and staff were keeping the fencing in place and that if we went into that area, they would consider us on their site and the police could not assure safety. We explained how stupid this was. That WE are the friendly, smiling and polite face of the frack-free movement and that what comes if they don't deal with us, is not pretty. The video of the morning brutality was already going wild and many caring protectors across the country watched. What happened next made this even worse.
Suddenly activity at the fencing at the start of the works-lane and we dashed down to prepare for the next truck - they'd have to open the fence to let it in and we'd resume walking whether they agreed or not. They were just being sly though as the truck shot at speed past us, to the top of the site and began reversing in the works-lane. Some of us got behind the truck and it just kept coming - we were screaming for him to stop, Edwina was banging on the driver window and the police rushed over to stop him. STILL he kept coming and it was at around a foot from my face that I noticed Diane leap like a young gazelle - onto the ladder of the vehicle. He braked hard a few times to try to shake her off, but anyone who knows Diane will tell you, ain't no way she moves without at least a 'please'. Guards too had needed to jump out of the way and it was an appalling scene that really did nearly end in tragedy. So bloody sad.
What bothers me most, is the truck driver. How badly did he want to deliver this gravel? Why on earth would he overreact so extremely to deliver gravel - he's just staff, it's not his, he gets paid anyway... so why the hell was he willing to literally risk lives to deliver gravel? I can't conceive of his mind and how it makes him so.
Finale (repeat Scene 2):
The happier ending when wisdom returned
I had swapped places with Diane on the truck to keep it still and been joined by Ami and Fluffy on the other side... it was around 1pm and we stayed for over an hour. During this time the police had asked how long we would be there and we said, till 3pm when traffic lights would be removed. The police maintained an eye on the truck and kept guards at bay and after a while came back to say that Cuadrilla "wanted to negotiate". Fantastic... as I pointed out though, had they just let us do our slow-walks, the truck would have been and long gone by this stage. Cuadrilla asked if we'd be willing to come off the truck if we could slow walk it - we agreed.
We gathered in front of the truck after he reversed to the start point and with the addition of some *new steps, a line up of about 11 (for the purpose of getting what we wanted - regained control - we agreed to less than a dozen doing the walk on this occasion) and a huge sense of relief that we had got back to the sensible, fair bit - off we went.
(*New Steps - slow walking is a bit of a shuffle to show you're gaining distance and not obstructing by staying in-place. Shuffling lacks joy so we took a little step, then put one foot heel-to-toe in front of the other saying "two steps forward" then taking a little back step and joining it with the other foot "one step back" and proceeded with a smile and some rhythm)
After this, the site closed early and we were all away before 3pm - a little achey, a lot wiser and even more determined. Tomorrow could be anything... we'll just have to turn up, do our best and think on our feet. From Legal Observing, to witnessing and note taking about planning and human abuses, viedoeing, photography, shouts of support, warm gloves for cold hands on a truck, cake, coffee, water and support for each other - we the Protectors remain as beautiful as ever.
The good people coped with a challenging day that started with brutality, passed through tolerance, collapsed into disarray, fence abuse and mistrust, followed by near tragedy and lashings of truck mounting before resuming the calm sense and fairness of a slow-walk for the finale.
State of play - unfair, unwise, inhuman ...but not without a little power-shift x