The Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire is being urged to consult local people about protection for the rights to protest against fracking.
The call by Netpol, an organisation which monitors public order policing, follows the decision by the county council yesterday to approve plans by Third Energy to frack at Kirby Misperton.
Netpol also accused North Yorkshire Police of inflaming the already emotive fracking debate with an “unhelpful” tweet minutes after the decision was announced.
In a separate development, the Police and Crime Commissioner said this evening the cost of anti-fracking protests in the county were unlikely to exceed £1.5m and budgets were in place.
“Clear standards and expectations”
In a statement issued today, Netpol said Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) were in a position to scrutinise how police forces complied with their human rights obligations. It said:
“Netpol is therefore calling on North Yorkshire’s PCC Julia Mulligan to consult widely with the public, and in particular those opposed to fracking, to draw up and publish a clear set of standards and expectations, agreed by the Chief Constable, on how North Yorkshire Police will exercise its positive duty to protect the right to participate in protest against fracking.
“This should address concerns about large-scale intelligence-gathering, decisions that lead to the unfair and arbitrary categorisation of protesters as alleged ‘extremists’ and the subsequent use of increasingly coercive and aggressive tactics against them.”
The costs of protests
Julia Mulligan, a Conservative, was re-elected North Yorkshire’s PCC on 5 May this year.
We asked her to comment on Netpol’s call. Her office released the following statement this evening about the costs of policing protests. We’ll update this post with any other comment when we receive from the PCC.
“There is a positive duty on North Yorkshire Police to facilitate lawful and peaceful protests, with fracking being absolutely no different, and I do not expect any resourcing issues as a result of the County Council’s decision.
“North Yorkshire Police has the necessary contingencies and budgets in place to ensure the force is well able to deal with such events in the calm and professional manner you would expect, ensuring any impact on local residents is kept to a minimum.
“Above and beyond our usual budgeting there are also reserves earmarked for any unplanned Major Incidents, as well as a general reserve which is there for any eventuality. I firmly believe however that any lawful and peaceful protest will be facilitated by the police as usual, keeping costs to a minimum.
“In the worst case, there is the option to apply to the Home Office for financial support should the costs exceed 1.0% of North Yorkshire Police’s budget, or about £1.5m, but I believe that is highly unlikely to happen.”
“Unhelpful and inflammatory”
Netpol’s proposal for a PCC consultation follows a tweet and statement by the North Yorkshire force last night.
The tweet, posted at 6.56pm by North Yorkshire Police came about five minutes after the vote on Third Energy’s fracking application. The announcement that the plans had been approved was met by jeers among a crowd of about 150 opponents of fracking outside County Hall in Northallerton. The North Yorkshire Police tweet warned:
Please be aware, the police will take action against unlawful behaviour linked to the #nyshale protest”.
It linked to a statement issued by North Yorkshire Police before the meeting started on Friday 20 May.
This said the police would take “appropriate action against those who break the law” and “not tolerate criminal behaviour and we will ensure public order is maintained”.
“Raising the temperature of an already fraught and emotive debate with an unnecessarily inflammatory press release is unhelpful. It is also another indicator of all too commonplace and negative assumptions by police about what have always been overwhelmingly peaceful anti-fracking protests.
“It is this attitude that leads directly to the kind of costly and disproportionate policing operations Netpol has documented over the last three years, involving large numbers of officers and intensive surveillance on campaigners who are simply trying to exercise their rights of assembly and freedom of speech.”
At 8pm, North Yorkshire posted a more conciliatory tweet linked to a press release which praised opponents outside County Hall and thanked them for their co-operation.
DrillorDrop also invited North Yorkshire Police to comment and we’ll update this post with any response we receive.
- Netpol also said it was essential that campaigners understood their rights, had trained legal observers at protests and were able to access solicitors with extensive experience of public order law.
Updated at 6.15 to include statement by the Police and Crime Commissioner