County Hall is investigating claims schoolchildren protesting about climate change were verbally abused by a staff member and ignored by councillors.
The youngsters from all over the county travelled to Preston as part of the UK Student Climate Network-organised ‘Strike for Climate Change’ event that saw pupils all over the UK miss classes to voice their concerns about the threat rising global temperatures pose.
But the children and supporters, some from the anti-fracking groups The Lancashire Nanas and Frack Free Lancashire, said their request to talks to councillors about the climate emergency on Friday were ignored.
They therefore they staged a sit-in on within County Hall’s foyer, during which they said some workers roughly pushed through them, swore in the presence of children and verbally abused them.
Footage was captured by one of the campaigners which appeared to show a woman wearing a Lancashire County Council t-shirt leaving County Hall and telling protesters, with the use of an obscene expletive, to shut up.
It has been shared with bosses at Lancashire County Council who have promised to look into the claims.
The video emerged on the day Swedish environmentalist Greta Thunberg made global headlines, accusing world leaders at a UN conference of failing to act on climate change.
In an emotional speech, the 16-year-old, who sparked a series of worldwide school strikes, said: “This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean, yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you?”
The Post has blurred the image to prevent the staff member at the centre of the row being identified.
The youth protesters, who have today said they will return to County Hall to demand answers over climate change policies, said they were disappointed that instead of coming to talk to them, police were brought in to disperse the protest.
A statement from the climate change campaigners on behalf of the children said: “Nobody would speak to them or even come into the foyer to speak them. They held a sit-in protest, in the hope that an adult would acknowledge their presence.
“Shockingly, the response to the children’s requests for adults to speak them, was for reception staff to be replaced with security guards and the police were called. Staff were diverted around the rear of the building to avoid the children.
“Several staff members were witnessed to physically push the children and a video has arisen of one Lancashire County Council staff member verbally abusing campaigners outside County Hall.
“The police continued with intimidatory tactics, filming the children and talking about arrests for ‘aggravated trespass’.”
Lancashire police confirmed they had a presence at the event but played down the suggestion they intimidated the pupils and said no arrests were made.
A force spokesman said: “There is no suggestion of any particular issues from the protests.
“When we are aware of planned protests, we always work with the organisers to facilitate a peaceful protest. Our role is a supportive one to ensure that the democratic process can run smoothly.”
One of the youth campaigners, aged 13 and from Lytham, said: “I felt really let down when we learned that no adults would even come out to speak to us.
“Our concerns are real yet we’re not deemed worthy enough to have our voices heard. All across the world, children along with adults, marched peacefully together to see action on the climate emergency.
“Yet in Preston, the council called the police. This makes me so sad.”
A spokesman for Lancashire County Council said: “Everyone has the right to give their view through peaceful protest.
“Staff were instructed to use another entrance while this took place on Friday, due to the number of people in reception, which created access issues for people arriving and leaving the building.
“We are aware of the video and are looking into it.
“We were not aware that the protesters were coming, or what they were asking of us, so there was no one available to meet them at such short notice.”
The youngsters wanted to ask about the County Council’s policies to reduce its carbon footprint.
They said they will return to County Hall and want a senior member of the council to acknowledge their concerns and take them seriously.
The Lancashire anti-fracking Nanas were requested by the children to attend with them for support.
l Watch the video on our website, www.lep.co.uk.