ROBERT HARDMAN: Why did police do NOTHING to stop travellers destroying historic brewery?

George III was on the throne when Daniel Thwaites started brewing beer on this spot — and his descendants have been here ever since. On through the Battle of Waterloo, the Victorian era and two World Wars, they have kept the beer flowing.

This summer the family were preparing to make a commemorative farewell beer ahead of a move to a new plant three miles up the road. Now, however, those plans to celebrate Thwaites’s historic ties to the Lancashire town of Blackburn have been consigned to the same bin as the broken glass, the soiled carpets and pretty much everything else here at one of England’s oldest and best-known breweries.

After 211 years of ale-making, Daniel Thwaites Plc has this week been forced to declare the premature closure of its brewery following an invasion by travellers who razed the place to the ground over the last Bank Holiday weekend.

Their three-day orgy of crime has so crippled the brewery that it can barely brew a cup of tea, let alone a pint of its famous Thwaites Original or Nutty Black mild.

As a result, the company has had to take emergency measures to accelerate its relocation plans and get its new premises up and running in the next few weeks.

Their three-day orgy of crime has so crippled the brewery that it can barely brew a cup of tea, let alone a pint of its famous Thwaites Original or Nutty Black mild

What has appalled everyone across Lancashire and beyond even more is not so much the damage — which runs to more than £100,000 — but the fact that not a single perpetrator left in handcuffs.

At the end of a long weekend of criminal damage, theft, threatening behaviour and what the IRA used to call a ‘dirty protest’ — plus a shoplifting spree in a neighbouring supermarket — the 100-strong gang drove off in broad daylight, laden with stolen goods.

And they did so without so much as a parking ticket after — wait for it — ‘negotiating’ with the police.

Only now, three weeks later, have the police finally said that they have a suspect or two, though few are holding their breath.

The more that we learn about this deplorable story, the more awkward the questions which must be asked not just of Lancashire Police but of the Government.

We can at least applaud the gang members for one thing — their timing. For this latest scandal has fallen at the very moment that the Government completes a nationwide investigation of the vexed issue of illegal traveller sites, led by housing minister Dominic Raab.

The consultation phase formally closed last night and ministers and officials will now start examining the evidence. I hope the story of Thwaites is at the top of the pile when they get to work.

It is hard to think of a case which lends greater credence to a theory supported by every single person I meet in Blackburn: that there is one law for some and one for others.

Up to now, reports on this episode have focused mainly on the beer. Entire vats of award-winning real ale had to be poured down the drain for fear of contamination.

Given the repulsive way that the travellers wilfully contaminated some of the offices — human waste on the carpets, just a few feet from fully functioning lavatories — the brewery management had no choice. Who knew what added ingredients there might be in that particular batch of Nutty Black?

Not that the travellers were particularly interested in Thwaites beer anyway. Instead, they simply ransacked the booze section of the Morrisons supermarket next door (there were three separate incidents of theft reported and no arrests there, either). But this is about much more than an unpaid drinks bill.

The first suggestion of trouble came as local pubs and bars were filled on May 26 for the start of the Champions League final between Real Madrid and Liverpool.

Shortly after 8pm, the security guard at the main entrance to the Thwaites Brewery found himself under siege. A gang of travellers had pulled up. And they weren’t in search of somewhere to rest their weary heads. They were using an angle grinder to cut through the locks on the main gate, right in front of him.

The guard dialled 999. By the time the police arrived ten minutes later, a couple of trucks and caravans were already through the gates. According to locals, one police car positioned itself across the entrance and prevented any further incursions while officers assessed the situation.

Had the police car remained there, the whole incident might have been contained. But the police were then reassigned to join the hunt for a man on the loose with a knife.

So, having received ‘assurances’ from the travellers already on site that they would be leaving in a couple of days, the cops drove off. At which point the poor security guard could only stand back as the rest of a cavalcade of trucks and caravans piled in through the gates. Around 100 travellers started taking the place apart.

Pictured are smashed plates and paperwork scattered all over the floor of one of the offices

Pictured are smashed plates and paperwork scattered all over the floor of one of the offices

‘Our security guard did the right thing,’ says Andrew Buchanan, Thwaites’s director of pub operations and brewing. ‘He called the police and got out of the way.’

We are sitting in a meeting room where what used to be a glass door is covered in chipboard. Like everything else in this place, it was smashed in.

There are generators in the yard providing enough electricity to run computers and lighting but nothing more. If the staff want any food or drink, they have to go into town. All the vending machines have been pulverised. Mr Buchanan explains that he cannot go in to too much detail as matters are still under investigation.

Most of the site is now sealed off. The real damage, he tells me, has not been the loss of a few thousand pints of beer.

What is far worse is the violation of a place where generations of Blackburnians had worked all their lives — together with the complete loss of mains electricity.

A brewery needs energy and lots of it. Now, Thwaites has virtually none. This was not a random act of vandalism. This was a well-planned targeted raid to remove all the copper cable from a plant which had tons of the stuff serving three separate sub-stations. At £4,000-a-ton in current scrap copper prices, the travellers had a field day.

Make no mistake, there is no defence for what happened here. We can ignore any bleating about these travellers having nowhere else to go, poor lambs, or being victims of a witch-hunt. The local MP, Kate Hollern, has called this ‘absolutely appalling’ criminality — and she happens to be the parliamentary private secretary to one Jeremy Corbyn.

Quite rightly, mainstream traveller organisations have condemned these thugs, too. This was organised crime, plain and simple. So why did police just watch?

Come the Sunday morning, the Thwaites management were extremely worried. The office wing of the plant contained family and company heirlooms dating back to the founder, Daniel Thwaites, who was born in 1777. The brewery passed down to his son, Daniel II, MP for Blackburn, and thence to Daniel II’s daughter Elma, who ran the brewery with her husband Robert Yerburgh.

In due course it passed to her grandson John, who fought with the Irish Guards during World War II and then came home to run the family business. His widow, Ann Yerburgh, is the current chairman of the company. Its heritage is part of Blackburn’s history. With its dray horses and towering presence in the heart of the town, Thwaites is to Blackburn what Guinness is to Dublin.

Thwaites Brewery was forced to throw away 1,700 pints of beer after 100 travellers invaded the site and turned it into 'a disgusting mess'

Thwaites Brewery was forced to throw away 1,700 pints of beer after 100 travellers invaded the site and turned it into ‘a disgusting mess’

So we can imagine the mounting desperation of the family and staff that morning as they watched the stand-off at the gates while the rampaging continued, unchecked, within.

Eventually, the police agreed that the management should be allowed to retrieve a few of their belongings. ‘They helped us gain access through a separate entrance for an hour and we managed to recover some computer records and historical items,’ Mr Buchanan explains.

I ask him if he was able to speak to the travellers. ‘They were dictating who came on and off the site and there was no communication. None that I could repeat, anyway. It was intimidating.’ Thwaites had been ‘evicted’ during one of the busiest weekends of the year. ‘We’re in the hospitality industry. We work on Bank Holidays,’ Mr Buchanan explains.

With hundreds of staff and nearly 300 pubs and hotels in operation, the company had to establish a temporary headquarters elsewhere, there and then.

The travellers were equally busy inside. While one group went through the offices, floor by floor, the copper thieves were systematically tearing out the electrics from each floor of the ten-storey brewing tower and dropping it all down the stairwell.

One of the engineers shows me a shocking photo of the loose ends of thick cables dangling down from the ceilings. ‘They knew what they were doing or they’d have been electrocuted,’ he explains.

The stolen copper was then loaded on to vans, at which point we come to another inexplicable part of this story.

The travellers were seen driving off — ‘with their axles practically scraping the floor’ as one member of staff puts it — and yet the police did nothing. Nor did they intervene when these vans returned considerably lighter later on. Why were the criminals allowed to come and go at will when the dimmest police officer must have been aware that they might be in possession of stolen goods?

In a statement to the Mail, a spokesman says: ‘We didn’t stand by and let things happen. We took decisions based on the resources we had available at the time during an extremely busy weekend of unprecedented demand, along with consideration for our officer safety due to numbers of travellers and their potential hostility, not to go to the site. Officer safety is and has to be integral to any operational decision.’

That might explain why the police did not go inside. But it still fails to explain why vehicles were allowed to come and go unchallenged.

By Sunday evening, the staff of Thwaites were at their wits’ end. Section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act states that the police have every right to remove ‘two or more persons’ who are trespassing if they have caused damage, used threatening behaviour or have more than six vehicles. This lot were bang to rights on all counts. Yet the police stood by.

Finally, on Monday afternoon, the marauders loaded up all the remaining loot and drove off.

‘We negotiated with the travellers to encourage them to move, which they eventually did,’ Superintendent Andrea Barrow told the BBC. Having issued a statement noting the ‘co-operation’ of the travellers, the police presumably hoped that this would be the end of the story. In fact, it is just the start.

The Daniel Thwaites alcohol has been brewed at Blackburn for dozens of years

The Daniel Thwaites alcohol has been brewed at Blackburn for dozens of years

Thwaites staff who cut short their holiday breaks to return to their workplace were astounded. ‘The mess was indescribable. They had pulled apart all our desks, looking for loose change I suppose, and they even pinched our coats,’ says a woman in the accounts department who does not wish to be named.

‘The one place they didn’t touch was the toilets. They don’t seem to have used them. They just used our offices instead.’

Officially, the company is grateful to the authorities. But the workforce and locals are furious. When I drop in at the nearest Thwaites pub, The Sun, everyone in the place asks the same question — ‘Why didn’t they arrest anyone?’ — before offering the same theory. The police, they argue, are either afraid of travellers or afraid of being accused of picking on them.

When I put this to the police, they revert to the argument that ‘it would not have been feasible’ to arrest 100 people. That, though, is not the point. No one expected them to charge in and handcuff women and children. But why did they not check any vehicles leaving the site? Why not pick off a ringleader?

We have yet to find out. But the feeble response has already attracted criticism from a senior former officer. ‘There were offences at the very start, offences on the site, offences off the site at the supermarket and then the handling of stolen goods,’ says former detective superintendent Mick Gradwell, who spent 30 years with Lancashire Police.

‘Someone at the top took the decision not to search vehicles or use the usual investigational tools. The public really do need answers on this.’

He points out that Lancashire Police always expect heightened traveller activity on the late May Bank holiday weekend since it falls in the run-up to the Appleby Horse Fair, a popular annual gathering of gypsies and travellers just up the M6 in Cumbria.

A police spokesman reiterates that there was ‘unprecedented’ demand over the weekend, adding: ‘We are looking into our response on the day to see whether any lessons can be learned.’

The Chief Constable, Andy Rhodes, went on Radio Lancashire a few days later to assure people that ‘arrests will be made’, though he added: ‘Logistically, we can’t just lock up 100 people. We don’t know who had done what because we don’t have the evidence.’

Presumably that might be because the villains drove off with it.

From Clive Grunshaw, Lancashire’s police and crime commissioner, comes an equally underwhelming response: ‘I understand the concerns. I am being kept informed, but this is a live investigation and has to take its course.’

No wonder people are livid.

We have been here before. Last summer, I reported how the Norfolk resort of Cromer was invaded by a gang of travellers over the August Bank Holiday weekend. We were promised arrests and ‘lessons learned’ there, too.

A Freedom of Information request later revealed that the police had been alerted to 53 separate incidents, including a sexual assault. The number of convictions stands at, well, zero, though one person has been charged with theft.

But then, it only requires one look at the Twitter feed of Lancashire’s Chief Constable to see the priorities expected of the modern top cop. It is a textbook display. Mr Rhodes is obviously a decent chap, with his stream of impeccably correct tweets about mental wellbeing, diversity, award-winning staff and support for a gay aviation event (plus rainbow flag emoji).

All very laudable. But right now, the people of Lancashire would be much happier if they had a senior officer who, when confronted with brazen anarchy, did not ‘negotiate’ but, instead, put on a hard hat and declared: ‘You’re nicked.’