Anti-fracking policing has “chilling effect” on freedom and campaigning – new report


Policing at the eviction of a protest camp at Upton, near Chester, January 2016

Policing of anti-fracking protests is undermining human rights and campaigns against shale gas, according to a new report.

The study by the police monitoring organisation, Netpol, concluded:

“The way policing operations are planned for anti-fracking protests, the scale of intrusive surveillance against campaigners and ‘zero tolerance’ attitudes towards civil disobedience has a cumulative ‘chilling effect’ on freedoms of assembly and expression.”

protecting-the-protectorsThe report, Protecting the Protectors, said this posed:

“A significant risk of gradually undermining the right to protest by the nationwide network of local groups opposed to fracking.”

Netpol said the findings were the outcome of monitoring police operations at protests and talking to anti-fracking groups across the UK since 2014.

It called for police operations to be “genuinely less intimidating” in size, “less aggressive” in their tactics and more transparent in their dealings with industry and the media.

It urged Police and Crime Commissioners to draw up local plans with clear minimum standards and expectations about policing protests.

DrillOrDrop asked the National Police Chiefs’ Council to comment on the report. We will update this post with any response.

“Zero-tolerance” but low conviction rates

Netpol reported what it described as “an uncompromising attitude from officers” at protests. The organisation said police “reacted aggressively as soon as protesters stepped into the road”.

It said it had information that protesters were uncertain about what actions might trigger an arrest.

Since 2013, police have arrested and charged more than 250 people following protests at drilling sites. But when the cases went to trial at magistrates’ courts, conviction rates were well below the 85+% average for this level of prosecution.

In many cases reported by DrillOrDrop, district judges accepted the argument of protesters that they have a right to freedom of expression and assembly under Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights and that their actions were proportionate.

Cuadrilla drilling rig leaves the Balcombe, West Sussex, UK site

Policing at Balcombe in West Sussex. Photo: David Burr

Research by DrillOrDrop found that 126 people had been arrested at protests outside Cuadrilla’s site at Balcombe in West Sussex in 2013 but only 29 convictions from both guilty and not guilty pleas resulted.

The Keep Moving report by researchers at York and John Moore Universities found that 120 people had been arrested at protests at Barton Moss in Salford in 2013-2014. Up to 12 February 2016, there had been 33 convictions (both guilty and not guilty pleas). 40 cases were discontinued by the Crown Prosecution Service, five had no action taken after arrest, 20 people were found not guilty and 22 cases were ongoing. In April 2016, another three cases resulted in acquittals.

Horse Hill Protests

Protest outside the Horse Hill oil exploration site in Surrey. Photo: David Burr

At two trials this summer arising from protests at the Horse Hill exploration site near Gatwick Airport, 10 people were acquitted and eight found guilty. At the conclusion of the first trial, the judge said:

“For me it is of some concern that the relationship between protesters and police has deteriorated to the point that there was a lack of engagement and that some protesters have voiced that they are not interested in speaking to the police.”

The most recent court case, at Chester last month, saw a judge dismiss the charges against five anti-fracking campaigners arrested at the eviction of a camp at the IGas site at Upton. Another campaigner was found not guilty of assault and threatening behaviour after the judge said he was “wholly unimpressed by the prosecution evidence”. Two others were found guilty of resisting bailiffs. Another case is due to be heard this month.

Domestic extremism and surveillance

Netpol said surveillance of protesters by members of Counter Terrorism Units suggested that the police increasingly linked opposition to fracking to domestic extremism.

The report described how anti-fracking campaigners from north west England had been labelled as at risk from influences from non-violent extremism and referred to the Channel counter-radicalisation programme.

It added:


Police body cameras. Photo: Netpol

“Gathering information by routinely filming or photographing individuals, targeting surveillance at prominent campaigners and searching and documenting their online discussions on social media is more hostile and divisive to the “normal democratic process” than any alleged ‘extremist threat’ and is wholly disproportionate.

“When coupled with an unfounded association with serious criminality and ‘extremism’ and an unwillingness by police to accommodate protests without routinely making arrests, this can start to quickly chip away at campaign groups’ support and participation and have a disruptive impact on their effectiveness and activities.”

The National Police Chiefs’ Council has said commanders on the ground should make the vast majority of operational decisions.

But Netpol said

“Police forces should explain in detail how they will positively protect the right to freedom of assembly and how they will plan to avoid prioritising the interests of the oil and gas industry over the rights of campaigners.”


Report summary

Full Report: Protecting the Protectors

17 replies »

  1. ‘“Police forces should explain in detail how they will positively protect the right to freedom of assembly and how they will plan to avoid prioritising the interests of the oil and gas industry over the rights of campaigners.”’

    This is encouraging. It is worth knowing that many of the police officers on duty have praised the peaceful protest and have sympathies with the cause. It seems most likely those nearer the top of the pile are the one’s who are more likely prioritising the interests of the oil and gas industry

  2. Brilliant keep up the good work you’re doing law enforcement .
    These statements are really starting to scrape the barrel now.

  3. Great to see this report. The police force should not allow themselves to be a pawn in this game. They are not a private security force for the industry. They are there to protect the public. Time and time again the courts are critical of police activity, normal people are being handled like terrorists.

  4. The police force should not allow themselves to be cowed by the green lobby. They are there to protect the public and to maintain the rule of law which includes the right of people to go about their normal lawful business. Climbing onto lorries going into Horse Hill (which is what happened) is both dangerous for the pepetrator and potentially for the public. The police as usual have an enormously difficult job finding the appropriate line between the opposing rights of protesters and businesses. Overall I find myself as I get older getting increasingly weary of constant carping critiscism of the police by various pressure groups, which seems to get ten times the news coverage compared to plaudits for successful interventions.

  5. Just a remark about police numbers. I worked for a number of years in acute psychiatry and have seen the police act to restrain psychotic individuals for their own safety, which was always done professionally. Basically I was told that the method was usually to use a large group of officers, that way the confrontation does not become a fight because basically the individual can be restrained very quickly with minimum risk to anyone. I suspect that this is the case with many police operations in cases where confrontation is possible.

  6. I wonder why Ruth would publicize a narrow report such as this one while choosing to ignore the report from the US Chamber of Commerce about the impact to the US economy were fracking to be banned. Seems small minded to me!

      • A story about a mommy complaining about gas operations is deemed significant enough for a full headline story yet a 60 page US Chamber of Commerce study on the impact of a ban on fracking is not? Seriously?

        In all fairness, Drill or Drop is not advertised as an objective source of fracking news and information. So, I have no basis for complaining.

        BTW, Paul, my cat is vehemently against fracking too. If I send you a shot of him would you run the story?

        • How about getting your cat to live near a fracking site then send a shot of it dead or with white eyes and serious hair loss.

            • Well done for reading the headline at least of that medical study. If you can manage to read further you’ll see that the mice were subjected to contaminants at concentrations known to be found near fracking sites. The experiment has already been done on humans by your industry – with some nasty results. The mice testing was a validation of the suspected causes.

        • In reply to hballpeenyahoocom.
          Thanks for your comment.

          The US Chamber of Commerce report is mentioned on the site’s headline page and is also included on the Resources page.

          Having read the executive summary I would suggest several reasons why this report might be of limited interest to UK readers:

          1. It deals exclusively with the US experience.

          2. The UK currently doesn’t have any fracking in progress, so if the process were banned it wouldn’t have the same effect as it would in the US

          3. The report has been compiled by an organisation which may not be objective or impartial. This is important because the report is based entirely on assumptions of what would happen were an event to occur (stopping of all fracking). Without some detailed research, it’s difficult to know how credible these assumptions are.

          4. In one sense, the conclusions of the report are obvious. If you stopped all fracking activity tomorrow, clearly many people would lose jobs and livelihoods. But this doesn’t mean that fracking is in itself a good idea. If a heroin addict suddenly stops taking heroin, the effects will be severe and maybe fatal. But that doesn’t mean that heroin is a good thing, nor that the addict can’t be slowly taken off the drug.

          If you would like to submit a piece on the findings of this report, we would certainly consider publishing it on the blog as a guest post. However, we would need to know more about you and what interests (if any) you have in the issue.

          • Funny, Paul. Did you apply these same standards to the headline story about a mommy who doesn’t want fracking near her kids? Because as I read it, that story would fail on all four measures in a general sense.

            Double standard is fine. So long as you acknowledge the bias.

    • If fracking was to be banned in the US, the fracking companies would have their $billion debts called in…..we would likely see another US inspired Global crash. That would make a great story.

    • If fracking was to be banned in the US, the fracking companies would have their $billion debts called in…..we would likely see another US inspired Global crash. That would make a great story.

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