`Agitators' add to protest cost

The Guardian April 19 1996

John Vidal

POLICE and road protesters yesterday clashed over allegations that professional demonstrators had driven the cost of policing the Newbury bypass to over £3.6 million, and that the police had acted partially on behalf of the Government.

In the first public post mortem since the bypass route was cleared earlier this month, senior police officers showed videos of protesters wielding knives against bailiffs and mounted a display of weapons police claimed to have found on the site.

«The vast majority have been well meaning people with a social conscience, but a minority could be cast as professional agitators,» Chief Inspector Charles Pollard said.

There had been 770 arrests, most for alleged minor offences, Mr Pollard Said. Seventy-two people had been arrested four times.

But protesters accused police of telling only one side of the story. «They consistently ignored our complaints,» a protester said yesterday. «It was blindingly obvious that there was wrong being done against us.»

A Friends of the Earth spokesman said: «We have documentary evidence of what seems like brutality against some of the protesters. We are dismayed that high-level police officers seemed to be trying to manipulate public opinion against what was overwhelmingly a peaceful protest.»

Mr Pollard said accusations against security guards and others were being investigated.

Thames Valley police have so far spent £2.6 million on the protest, and Hampshire police a further £1 million. Police costs are expected to exceed £12 million by 1998.