21st June 2014
A document released under the Freedom of Information Act has confirmed that the Sussex Police operation at last year’s Balcombe anti-fracking protests used covert intelligence-gathering. This had been suspected by campaigners but not previously stated by police.
The information was contained in a review of the operation by police officers from Hertfordshire and Essex. A small section of the review report was redacted. Thick blocks of black colour obscured two sentences of findings, as well as the career histories of the Hertfordshire and Essex officers involved in the review.
Sussex Police released the review report via the website, What Do They Know, in response to a request from InvestigatingBalcombeAndCuadrilla.com . The review report was released as a Microsoft Word document. A simple operation using Word to change the highlight colour removed the obscuring colour and revealed the redacted material underneath.
The redacted section from the findings dealt with intelligence and specifically stated that the operation used covert intelligence-gathering. “Once the operation moved into August”, the report said, “it was apparent that an appropriate range of intelligence sources were being harnessed, including where appropriate ECHR [European Court of Human Rights] compliant covert means.”
During trials of people arrested at the protests, police gave evidence that they gathered intelligence information from open sources, including social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter. Anti-fracking campaigners suspected that under-cover police officers were at the protest site. But this was never specifically stated by the police.
Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights gives everyone a right to respect of their private and family life, home and correspondence. It also says there this right will not be interfered with by a public authority unless it is “in accordance with the law” and is “necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”.
Five days after Sussex Police released the review report under the FOIA, it published much of the document on its website. But this version did not include the redacted material.