POLICE are under pressure to disband roadblocks surrounding the Leard State Forest after a 77-year-old Maules Creek woman was prevented from attending a Good Friday church service in Boggabri last week.
Wilma Laird claims officers refused her access to a road that would have seen her arrive in Boggabri in a matter of minutes and instead suggested she go through Narrabri – a detour of 40km – to reach the town.
“If I went via Narrabri, there was no chance I could make the 11 o’clock service in time – I just had to go home,” Mrs Laird, the mother of Lock the Gate national co-ordinator Phil Laird, said.
“I have been attending Good Friday services in the Boggabri parish for 77 years and I’ve never been stopped at a police road block before. It’s outrageous. I feel like my civil liberties have been violated.”
Police have erected roadblocks at several points around the forest to prevent anti-mining campaigners gaining access to the mine sites of Whitehaven Coal and Boggabri Coal and interrupting their operations.
The move comes after NSW Police requested the Forestry Corporation extend a public access ban on the forest – in place since mid-January – until at least the end of the month due to “public safety” concerns.
The latest crackdown coincides with Act Up 4, an event running from April 18 to April 28, which is organised by various environment groups and promotes acts of civil disobedience in the Leard State Forest.
But fellow Maules Creek resident Ros Druce, who has been campaigning for years against the construction of mines in the forest, said it was clear police had gone too far with the draconian measures.
In recent weeks Ms Druce has experienced the indignity of having her car stopped and the boot searched for protesters and has had a family member and several visitors refused access to her property by police at checkpoints.
“I thought it was unbelievable because I couldn’t even conceive that I would put a person’s life at risk by putting them in a boot and travelling any distance, so to my way of thinking it was ridiculous,” she said.
“The public are being penalised. It’s not the protesters or anybody else protecting the forest that are causing this, it’s because of the mines. And I would still like to know who is paying for the 24/7 public roadblock?”
Various NSW Police representatives, including Western Region assistant commissioner Geoff McKechnie, have repeatedly denied initiating the forest closures or road blocks in response to pressure from mining companies.