Anti-fracking Labour councillor Matt Bryan was among nine people arrested at the anti-fracking camp during yesterday’s (January 12) eviction operation.
Cllr Bryan, who represents Upton on Cheshire West and Chester Council , says he was apprehended after he climbed on top of a cherry picker about to be used as part of the clearance operation by bailiffs supported by police.
The Labour member is a staunch opponent of IGas’s plan to drill an exploratory coalbed methane well at a site in Duttons Lane, Upton, where a protest camp had been in place since April 2014.
He says he was acting to prevent possible danger to life and will be pleading not guilty.
Cllr Bryan, 29, of Kings Crescent West, Chester, has been charged with obstructing/resisting a constable in the execution of their duty after he was asked to leave Duttons Lane by police but instead climbed 16 feet high on top a cherry picker on the back of a low loader which was moving at the time.
Cllr Bryan, who says he arrived at the site about 20 minutes after bailiffs, was concerned fellow protesters may be ‘locked on’ in underground tunnels and yet heavy vehicles, like the HGV on which he climbed, were passing over the area before a health and safety assessment had been carried out.
“As a councillor I had a civic duty to ensure the safety of people in that area,” he said.
Cllr Bryan, who says he spent 11 hours in police custody at Blacon Police Station, had held meetings with the police in his capacity as ward councillor in the run-up to the eviction. He claims police ‘renegued’ on an agreement to maintain public access along Duttons Lane, unless there was a public safety issue.
In closing the road, he says police forced local protesters to hold a demonstration alongside the A41, ‘one of the busiest roads in Chester’, which put them in ‘more danger’. “They can’t have it both ways,” he added.
The councillor, who says he has the support of Labour colleagues, is also concerned that his bail conditions prevent him from entering the A41 Long Lane, Acres Lane and Duttons Lane, although he intends to appeal these stipulations.
Cllr Bryan is worried about the environmental impact of the energy company’s proposals, especially if the test drill leads to full scale production in a process known as ‘fracking’. He added: “I will go above and beyond on behalf of the residents of Upton on every issue, not just fracking.”
Cheshire Police has been asked if it wishes to comment on Cllr Bryan’s claims.
Supporters gathered outside Blacon Custody Suite after the nine activists, including Cllr Bryan, were arrested and subsequently charged, with eight bailed to appear before court at a date in February.
Stephen Anthony Allen, 46, of no fixed abode, was charged with aggravated trespass and resisting an enforcement officer and remanded into custody. He appeared before Chester Magistrates’ Court today (Wednesday January 13).
Other defendants are: Isabell Bish, 28, of Hambledon Road, Denmead, Hampshire, charged with resist/obstruct an enforcement officer; John Thomas Hall, 50, of no fixed abode, charged with obstruct/resist a constable in the execution of their duty; Lanner Davis, 23, of no fixed abode, charged with resist/obstruct an enforcement officer; Richard Edward Cairnes, 41, of no fixed abode, charged with failing to comply with a section 35 direction excluding a person from an area; Jamie Douglas Watson, 33, of Belmont Avenue, Ayr, charged with resist/obstruct an enforcement officer; Louise Hammond, 52, of Cedar Avenue, Scunthorpe, charged with resist/obstruct an enforcement officer and Richard Burcumshaw, 64, of Oxford Grove, Bolton, charged with assaulting a constable in the execution of his/her duty and section 5 public order.
■ Work is ongoing by High Court enforcement officials at the protest site in Duttons Lane, Upton , following the eviction. Cheshire Police is also maintaining a presence at the location ‘to monitor the situation and ensure public safety’. Duttons Lane remains closed, however, Acres Lane has now reopened.
Police confirmed there are currently no protesters at the site. The eviction followed a possession order issued by the High Court.
A spokesperson said: “Cheshire Police continues to work with the local community to minimise any impact in the Upton area. Local beat officers will continue to be available to address any issues raised by the local community.
“We would like to thank local people for their patience and will continue to do what is necessary to minimise disruption to local residents and balance the lawful rights of people who want to protest peacefully with the rights of those who need to go about their daily business, which includes the High Court enforcement officers.”