4:29pm Wednesday 16th April 2014
By Tui Benjamin
A PIANO teacher from Prestwich claims she was manhandled by a policeman during an anti-fracking demonstration — because of her white hair.
Judy Paskell, aged 64, alleges she was forcibly removed against her will from a peaceful demonstration at the Barton Moss anti-fracking camp in Eccles, Salford, last month.
Ms Paskell, of Church Lane, says police were keen to remove anyone who looked elderly from the protest line to prevent the “embarrassment” of arresting them.
Activists had been camped on land off Barton Moss Lane since November in protest at test shale gas drilling being undertaken by energy firm IGas, which has currently ended.
Protesters had formed a daily line and walked slowly in front of the convoy of vehicles as they entered and left the site. Ms Paskell has taken part six times and claims she was manhandled on March 6.
She said: “I heard one of the policemen in the line saying ‘let’s get rid of the old ladies’.
“Shortly after that I was grabbed tightly by the arm and pulled out of the line, allegedly because I had been leaning backwards, but this was not true.
“When the same thing happened a couple of months ago, policemen told me they were taking me out of the line for my own safety.
“They do not know how to treat older protesters and do not want the embarrassment of arresting them. But I worry I could be arrested next time.”
Judy, a member of the Bury Against Fracking campaign group, said about 12 older people walked regularly in the line and the policing often made her feel crushed. She said she had not submitted a formal complaint to the police about the incident because “life is too short”.
About 200 arrests are understood to have been made since the protest began and around 60 officers a day were sent to the site, but this sometimes rose to 150.
Police and crime commissioner Tony Lloyd has asked policing minister Damian Green for funding to cover the cost of policing the protest, which has so far run to £1.6 million.
Simon Pook, a solicitor acting on behalf of protesters arrested at Barton Moss, is compiling a dossier of evidence of “robust and aggressive” policing.
Mr Pook, from Robert Lizar, said he has video evidence that he is set to submit to Maina Kiai, the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
He said: “I have seen videos of people who are of senior years being moved out of the Barton Moss protests against their wishes.
“Greater Manchester Police (GMP) say they are doing this because of the health and safety of these elderly protesters, who are behaving peacefully.
"I would ask GMP on what basis in law are they permitted to exercise control over somebody’s movements on health and safety grounds?
“It appears to me that elderly people are removed from the protests to allow robust and aggressive policing of the line to begin.”
Ch Supt Mark Roberts, from GMP, said it was difficult to comment on an individual case without having the relevant information from the person concerned.
He said: “On occasions officers have been concerned about the well-being of individual protesters and have taken sensible, lawful action accordingly.
“On numerous occasions protests have involved elderly people and children to add to the challenge to the police to keep people safe and prevent crimes. The officers have done this with great restraint and sensitivity.
“Mr Pook has been very vocal in the media but as yet has failed to provide any evidence to support his claims.
“We would welcome any material he feels he has so that we can investigate the circumstances and either substantiate or negate his latest claims.”
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