10th July 2014
The Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner said she would defend to her “last breath” the right to protest. But answering questions about last year’s anti-fracking demonstrations at Balcombe, she could not say whether police passed personal information about demonstrators to the oil exploration company, Cuadrilla.
Katy Bourne told the annual meeting of the county’s police and crime panel that officers had a difficult job upholding the rights of people to protest peacefully and a business to go about its lawful duties.
She was responding to a question from a member of the public which asked: “Isn’t it wholly inappropriate for Sussex Police to be used as a private security force for commercial fracking and drilling companies, who are clearly massively unpopular with the majority of taxpayers living in Sussex.”
The Commissioner, elected to hold the police to account, said last September she had publicly questioned Martin Richards, the then Chief Constable, about the Balcombe policing operation. “His responses”, she said “are quite comprehensive”. The webcast of that meeting was still available, Mrs Bourne said. The questioner would “find everything she needs on there”.
Since that meeting, only 26 people of the 126 arrested at Balcombe were found guilty. A review of the Balcombe policing operation, published last month, revealed that Sussex Police used covert intelligence-gathering during the protest and were in regular communication with Cuadrilla.
Cllr Liz Wakefield, a Green Party city councillor from Brighton, told Mrs Bourne there was “lots of concern” about the policing of the protest. “It’s quite worrying that there were undercover police amongst the demonstrators”, she said.
Mrs Bourne replied: “I would absolutely defend to my last breath somebody’s right to protest. Many thousands of people died in two world wars fighting for that right”.
She said the Balcombe protests, which lasted 64 days, were “a first in this country” and Sussex Police commissioned the review to learn how it could improve its operation.
East Sussex County Councillor, Rosalyn St Pierre, asked about the undercover officers at Balcombe and communication between Sussex Police and Cuadrilla. “I want to ask what was the information passed to Cuadrilla? … Was any personal information about the protesters passed on to the company?”
Mrs Bourne replied: “I am really not in a position to answer I’m afraid.”
Asked by Cllr St Pierre whether, in light of the low number of convictions, there had been a review of the way Sussex Police brought protesters to court, Mrs Bourne referred to the review document.
This document, which does not address the ratio of arrests to successful convictions, was released by Sussex Police following a Freedom of Information Act request by InvestigatingBalcombeAndCuadrilla.com Click here to see the review report. The section which is blacked out refers to the use of cover intelligence-gathering. More details here.
A recording of the Sussex Police and Crime Panel meeting can be viewed here. The discussion about Balcombe starts about 26 minutes into the webcast.
- The police monitoring group, Netpol, has received two years of funding from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust to monitor policing at future anti-fracking protests. More here