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Front line report from Barton Moss anti-fracking camp

The poor folk at Barton Moss anti-frack camp, valiantly obstructing iGas's frack attack in a rainy Manchester site for over three months, have been subject to a propaganda campaign by the media and brutal policing. Not only have shady silhouetted characters popped up on the local news claiming to be 'neighbours' and spouting slurs about the camp of violence and anti-social behaviour, the press are intent on painting the crew as a rent-a-mob of outsiders.

SchNEWS caught up with a rent-a-mob outsider on their return from Barton Moss, to find out how grim it really is up north. Starting on a positive, the third weekly 'Solidarity Sunday' march and rally last weekend was the most well attended so far with over 1000 people making the trip. The diverse crowd included many locals and local groups, as well as anti-fracking protesters from as far away as Blackpool and Brighton. Gratitfyingly the marches are snowballing, the first hit around 200 attendees and the second swelling to 700.The hope is they'll keep growing, and prove that the critics - who claim the only people opposing the project are unrepresentative eco-extremists - are talking out of their boreholes.

Interestingly, the mass marches are police-free zones. Why? “Because they don't need to police the march. The actual site itself is ridiculously well-secured,” explains our source. “There's an air-lock gate system for vehicles going in and out and two layers of heavy duty fencing topped with razor wire, with large numbers of private security goons constantly on site. The cops aren't needed to protect the site itself. It's ironic because the police claim the massive numbers of police who escort the truck convoys in and out are there to 'facilitate peaceful protest'.”

When the bus loads of daytrippers left, and only the few dozen campers remained, the police immediatley returned to form: “Attitudes soured later in the evening when the pigs aggressively nicked one camper for blocking the road, leaving her bleeding from the mouth and throwing up blood.”

Outside of the big demos, the police have been not just being aggressive but are punching well below the belt, not least when they're fabricating stories of protestor violence (alleging assault of a security officer and even claiming that campers tried to down a police helicopter with a distress flare). Particular meatheads are the famously rough Tactical Aid Unit (TAU) who are the Manc version of the TSG, but with less manners.

“First thing in the Monday morning, two coppers threatened to burn a camper's tent down – of course when they were challenged they claimed it had just been a joke”

The frackers and their uniformed, tax-funded escorts appear to have learnt some tricks from Balcombe, explains our correspondent “It's a major tactical change - all the delivery trucks for the day arrive in one mass convoy at around 9am rather than one by one, as they did in Sussex. When they turn up between 75 and 100 police, including local bobbies, Evidence Gatherers, PLOs and the TAU, arrive on site.”

Protesters are using the same tactic from Balcombe of a go-slow foot procession in front of the trucks to hinder heir progress. On Monday, around fifteen people met the convoy at the top of the lane and marched it down to the site. The TAU protected the convoy and nicked three people for not walking fast enough. Later in the day, the convoy was escorted back out again, leading to four more arrests.

The following day, three people were arrested for breaching bail conditions before the first convoy had even arrived. Bail conditions restricting people's access to the road and relegating them to the verges have become a common response from the authorities, as have dodgy as hell arrests for breaching them. This occasion was no exception: “Police stormed into the camp kitchen, dragging them onto the road, thereby forcing them to breach their bail, and then nicking them!”

The morning continued in dramatic fashion: “When the convoy finally arrived, it became clear that GMP (Greater Manchester Police) had decided on a show of force. The city's entire contingent of TAU. turned up, 14 van loads in total, along with two evidence gathering teams, two CCTV vans and six PLOs. They escorted the trucks in and out in eerie silence, eventually nicking three more people, bringing the total number arrested during my visit to fourteen – and there were under thirty of us there!”

Many people have been arrested multiple times and court cases are multiplying like rabbits on Viagra (the last count nudged just over 100). The police are arguing that the lane the camp is on is a Public Highway, whereas the camp's solicitors are arguing it is in fact a footpath. Legal wrangling is ongoing.

As you've probably worked out, activists are desperately needed on site, where there are plenty of free tents, a full camp kitchen and a lot of wintry perseverance. See http://northerngasgala.org.uk/

and http://frack-off.org.uk/barton-moss-latest-news/

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Twitter: @SchNEWS