Police cop a spray over ‘heavy’ duty handling

POLICE have refused to comment on claims pepper spray was used to subdue a protester on Monday during a lock on at Santos’ Leewood facility in the Pilliga forest.

TAKING A STAND: Police confront the CSG protesters on Monday.

TAKING A STAND: Police confront the CSG protesters on Monday.

Two South Australian women, Kerri Tonkin and Cyd Fenwick, locked themselves to an excavator at 9am as part of a peaceful protest.

According to the group, police arrived at 9.40am, removed all other protesters and requested the women remove themselves.

A spokesperson for the protesters told The Leader one of the officers allegedly pepper sprayed Ms Tonkin at close range.

The group then claims Ms Tonkin was lifted and thrown over the arm of the excavator while her arm was still locked on.

Both women were arrested and charged.

Yesterday, Barwon police told The Leader they would not comment on police operations regarding the protesters.

Ms Tonkin said the actions of the police officers were “excessive and dangerous”.

“I was in a vulnerable position with only one arm free and without the freedom to move around,” Ms Tonkin said.

“I’m surprised I didn’t leave with a dislocated shoulder or a broken arm.”

Ms Fenwick said there was “absolutely no provocation” from either protester to warrant such a “heavy response”.

The lawyer representing the pair, Kira Levin of the NSW Environmental Defenders Office, said the use of pepper spray “would appear to be excessive. There is a long history in Australia of police response to environmental protest and pepper spray has not been a part of it,” Ms Levin said.

Fellow protester Naomi Hodgson said the group would file a complaint about the incident.

“This action by the police is unacceptable,” Ms Hodgson said.

“We simply cannot have a situation where police officers believe they are empowered to physically assault members of the community that pose them no harm – no matter what the circumstances.”

The Leewood facility is at the centre of a court case over its approval, with a directions hearing being held on Friday.

“Given the question marks over the legality of the Leewood facility’s environmental approval, and the widespread and committed opposition to it around the region, we’re calling on the NSW government to ask Santos to stand down until the court case is heard.”