Legal

Challenges to police links between fracking opposition and domestic extremism

lancashire-opposition

Controversial links made by the police between anti-fracking campaigners and domestic extremism are coming under scrutiny and challenge.

In the past month, a policing monitoring group, a peer and two opponents of shale gas operations have called for greater care and openness in the use of the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy, Prevent.

Over the past year, evidence has emerged of connections made by police between anti-fracking campaigns and radicalisation. Examples include:

  • A presentation to pupils at Driffield School and Sixth Form in East Yorkshire which linked anti-fracking protesters and extremists.
  • prevent-strategyLast year, the Times Educational Supplement reported that police training on the Prevent for teachers in West Yorkshire included references to environmental activists and anti-fracking protesters.
  • Individual anti-fracking campaigners have complained about being referred by education staff to the Channel programme, part of Prevent, designed (in the Government’s words) to offer advice and support to people identified as at risk of being drawn into terrorism.

Netpol requests details of Channel referrals

NetpolThese complaints prompted Netpol, an organisation which monitors protest policing, to ask five police forces in north west England for details about Channel.

It used Freedom of Information laws to request the number of people who had been referred to Channel because they were regarded as at risk from radicalisation in anti-fracking campaigns.

All five forces refused and last week Netpol revealed that its appeal to the Information Commissioner, the regulator on information legislation, had been refused. Netpol is currently considering whether to appeal further to the First-Tier Information Rights Tribunal.

In its response, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said:

Channel may be appropriate for anyone who is vulnerable to being drawn into any form of terrorism.”

It added:

“It follows from this that, for a referral to be made to Channel, it must be suspected that an individual is at risk of becoming involved in terrorist related activity.”

The ICO accepted the argument made by the police forces that confirming any information would disclose that Prevent officers were targeting anti-fracking events for extremist activities.

Prevent is a national counter-terrorism initiative that is only implemented in certain police forces across the country. The same FOI request made to multiple forces could therefore identify how Prevent resources are apportioned across the country.

“It is the Commissioner’s view that the disclosure of information that would take place by merely confirming or denying would be useful intelligence to anyone wishing to circumvent counter terrorism arrangements surrounding fracking and would be potentially damaging to the UK’s national security.”

“Rubber-stamping unfounded link”

Netpol described the ICO’s decision as “extraordinary” and accused it of “rubber-stamping an unfounded link between anti-fracking and extremism”. It said:

“What is missing from any of these statements is a simple but fundamental fact – there is simply no evidence whatsoever of any link between anti-fracking campaigns and extremism, never mind a risk of ‘terrorism-related activity’”.

Netpol said:

“In effect, the Commissioner is insisting nobody is referred unless there is a good reason for doing so – even if this is for nothing more than expressing legitimate political opinions about fracking.

“There is no reason for Prevent officers to target anti-fracking events for extremist activities and no reason for a police presence at anti-fracking events “as a Prevent priority”.

Netpol added:

“There is an urgent need for greater transparency about the false conflation of opposition to fracking – and increasingly other campaigns – with terrorism and a threat to national security”.

Green Party peer presses government

jenny-jones-question

Source: TheyWorkForYou.com

In response to Netpol’s comments, the Green Party peer, Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb, raised the issue in parliament.

She put these questions to the Home Office:

  • How many regional Counter Terrorism Units have been involved in monitoring anti-fracking protests?
  • How many arrests for a serious crime have been made by each unit as a result of such monitoring activity?
  • What guidance has the government given to the police about the use of covert infiltration of anti-fracking groups?
  • What guidance has the government given to the police about the exchange of information between the police and representatives of the coal and gas industry?
  • Does Prevent training includes reference to participation in anti-fracking groups?

“No information”

Baroness WilliamsThe response, given in written answers last Thursday (24/11/2016), was full of negatives. The Home Office minister, Baroness Williams of Trafford, replied:

“The Government does not hold information on the monitoring by police Counter-Terrorism Units of anti-fracking activity, or the number of arrests made by each Unit associated with any such activity.”

“The Government has not given specific guidance to the police on the use of undercover officers in anti-fracking groups. This is an operational matter. However, the police use of undercover officers and other covert sources is regulated by Part 2 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) and subject to guidance in the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Code of Practice published under section 71 of RIPA.”

Prevent training does not include any reference to participation in anti-fracking groups.”

“The Government has not issued guidance to the police regarding exchanges of information between the police and the coal and gas industry. The National Police Chiefs Council has issued guidance to forces on policing linked to onshore oil and gas operations.”

Evidence from Prevent workshops

Baroness Williams’ reply on training materials appears to contradict evidence of references to anti-fracking protests during Prevent workshops.

In a recording, sent to Netpol, a police officer specifically refers to anti-fracking campaigners at a Prevent training workshop for public sector staff. He is heard saying:

“Domestic: animal rights and anti-fracking got anyone [inaudible] got anyone know of Frack Off? Sometimes it does. Why are they on there? Well, if they demonstrate in accordance with the Public Order Act then there’s absolutely no problems.”

The officer then mentioned unproven allegations:

“What has happened though recently is at anti-fracking at Barton Moss, down in West Sussex and in Surrey, had some exploratory sites, people there started assaulting the workers going in … damaging equipment, trying to damage the site where the exploratory is taking place and all that sort of stuff. While people are with the placards at the front gate, absolutely no issues but once you cross the line into violence for their cause, then it becomes extreme. And it becomes violent extremism. As long as people stay within the law, no problem.”

Audio recording (transcribed section is about 2 minutes after the start)

A history teacher at the training day reported by the Times Educational Supplement said the officer referred to the arrest of the Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas, at anti-fracking protests at Balcombe in August 2013. The teacher, Dylan Murphy, said:

“The thing that set alarm bells ringing in my head was when he started talking about environmental activists.

“I thought, ‘Are you equating anti-fracking protests and environmental protesters with neo-Nazis and terrorists?’”

Anti-fracking protests – “local priority”

 

driffield-school-newsletter

Extract from Driffield School and Sixth Form newsletter

More recently, pupils at a school in East Yorkshire had a presentation about Prevent which included a slide of anti-fracking protesters.

The Driffield School and Sixth Form newsletter for parents reported on Prevent priorities:

“At present nationally, the greatest resource is devoted to preventing people from joining or supporting the so called Islamic State (IS) group, its affiliates and related groups. More locally, the East Riding’s main priorities are far right extremism, animal rights and anti-fracking.”

This specific link prompted Michael Farman, from Beverley to challenge a senior officer at East Riding Yorkshire Council.

Mr Farman wrote to Mike Furbank, the head of Children and Young People, Education and Schools:

“Anti-fracking and animal rights protesters are categorised as ‘extremists’ with wording implying that they are equivalent to terrorist organisations such as ISIS.

“So are the police suggesting to our local children that the thousands of people in East Yorkshire who are prepared to demonstrate to protect our countryside are a potential risk to society?

“This misinformation amounts to indoctrination, an activity that should never be practiced in our democratic society.”

“Blurring the distinction”

Mr Farman added:

“I am sure that you are aware of the danger of blurring the distinction between the occasional unlawful conduct of a few protesters (usually limited to trespass, obstruction of the highway and occasional verbal abuse of the police), and true extremists who are prepared to use violence, and that you recognise the need for our children to be clearly aware that such a distinction exists.

“They already have so many threatening issues and problems to deal with; they must not be given the false impression that they are surrounded by even more threats than are truly present.”

Mr Farman urged officials to engage with police to remove what he calls “offensive and dangerously misleading material” from Prevent presentations.

Mr Furbank replied that the materials used in the presentation were what he called “generic support materials provided through the Prevent strategy at a national level”.

He continued:

“I agree that the message needs to be nuanced but the act of “grooming” that is implicit in the process which ‘radicalises’ a young person and potentially leads them into a place of significant harm can be informed or driven by a number of different frameworks of belief- in effect it is the intention of the ‘radicaliser’ and the impact on the young person that is the issue, not necessarily the beliefs that are used as a vehicle to exert control over the young person.”

Mr Farman described this part of the reply as disturbing:

“While seemingly sympathetic and concerned, he concedes that anything the Police care to define as ‘radicalism’ may be seen as malevolently influencing a child’s mind. But this is exactly what the Prevent strategy is attempting to do by linking anti-fracking and animal rights activists with terrorist organisations in the minds of schoolchildren.”

“Alarming links”

Another East Yorkshire resident has described the presentation at Driffield School as “deeply shocking and alarming”.

Jon Mager, also from Beverley, said:

“The suggestion that the local anti-fracking campaign is a threat to young people at risk of recruitment into terrorism is unfounded and should be publicly withdrawn immediately.
“What evidence does Driffield school have to back up this claim? Good teaching is evidence-based.”

Mr Mager, a former Director of Children’s Services in East Yorkshire and opponent of fracking, asked:

“What does the reference to “East Riding’s main priorities” mean? Is this a priority for East Riding Council? Or is it a priority for Humberside Police who gave the Home Office Protect briefing to Headteachers?”

Mr Mager said Humberside Police had refused the share the content of their briefing so opponents of fracking had not been able to rebut any claims.

“Speaking as a former Director of Children’s Services in the East Riding I am extremely concerned – something is badly wrong if a Home Office briefing is put out by Humberside Police without the school improvement team being aware. Parents and teachers should be concerned if anti-democratic teaching like this is going on in our schools.”

“The implications of children being taught to spy on and report each other, or parents who are anti-frackers,  to teachers or the police is a shocking reminder of the tactics of the Gestapo or Stasi.”

 Mr Mager has asked the council in a Freedom of Information request to identify schools in the county which had:
  • Delivered Prevent training for staff
  • Provided teaching activity to pupils based on Prevent training
  • Held assemblies with content on Prevent training

He also asked for details of governor training in the strategy.

The council should reply to Mr Mager by 19 December 2016. DrillOrDrop will report on its response.

Updated 30/11/2016 with new quotes from Jon Mager

11 replies »

  1. Opening up this discussion raises some very interesting issues. There is an enormous scope in this, since it reflects everything from nationalism, party political dogma, religious and cultural up bringing, economic imperatives, international negotiations and conflicts, warfare with foreign countries with the intention of promoting human rights and freeing the populations from dictatorships, economic take over of countries and industries and funding internal and external terrorism to achieve that aim, conflicts with countries that will not play economic and political ball or has allegiances to other countries who do not play economic and political ball.
    One could very well say that a government who exercises increasing social political and economic pressure to conform to its own particular brand of concepts are indeed radical and represent domestic extremism and hence are subject to this consideration themselves.
    if this subject is going to be raised at all, then we must be given full scope to discuss this in all its aspects, not just those of equating pro life movements with domestic terrorism and legal protest to extremism.
    This is an enormous can of worms, perhaps we should ask ourselves if we want to go there at all. Should we be restricted to a tiny narrow focus and ignore the many bigger issues that could and should be raised if we are to discuss this in all its implications?
    Perhaps you have your own views on this.

    • Issues dont come any bigger than the environment, global warming and human induced climate change. The police need to realise that BIG OIL are the extremists, not those people trying to protect THEIR environment.

  2. I recall a remark that there are no protests in USA regarding the oil industry and its subsidiaries, that is perhaps because such things are not reported in the mainstream press, no more are they reported here either unless rent a mob can be used to discredit them.
    This is the Dakota Native reservation protests to prevent an oil pipe being laid across their land without their being consulted. The reaction of the police is frankly horrifying. I must ask again is this the sort of reaction that people lawfully protesting in this country can expect from the tender mercies of this industry?

    https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/nov/21/standing-rock-protest-hundreds-clash-with-police-over-dakota-access-pipeline

    The accent of this is to indicate that violence was attributed to the protesters, but look at other reports and videos not from the mainstream press and this shows it was not the protesters that began this punitive attack.

    This displays the sort of mind set we can expect and has been illustrated here in these posts many times. Do we really want to have this sort of mind set invade and intimidate our land? The process seems to be to play and say nice things, re-assure and tell us how well protected we will be, but once these industries establish themselves we can see quite clearly how all that just evaporates and the strong arm tactics emerge in their full glory.

  3. I completely agree with using strong armed tactics whilst dealing with these groups. This allows for a safer environment for both the police, as well as the perpetrators themselves.
    Whilst no doubt the majority of protesters are relatively peaceful there is always an element within the group seeking to cause violence.
    Intelligence gathering ahead of protests is welcome.

  4. Talk about double standards. School children are being taught that the police consider people who care enough about protecting the environment and animals to be anti-fracking and animal rights protesters, are on a par with far right extremists and IS supporters. At the same time, Cuadrilla are running summer schools and sponsoring childrens’ football teams and Ineos are organising childrens’ fun runs. Who do you think cares more about the world those children will inherit?

  5. I suspect in order to have double standards, one must possess at least one standard in the first place, i dont see any evidence of even that. what seems to be demonstrated here is a means to an end, anything goes to win hearts and minds particularly those too young to be able to discriminate for themselves, that is not a new process, the meat company always feeds the farm animals and makes them comfortable right up to when the abattoir doors close behind them. Political parties have manifestos and make outragious promises that quickly evaporate, companies promise profits that do not materialise, banks tell you they exist to make you richer, go figure.
    Some of us have seen it all before, not all of us are stupid.

  6. If the police are instructing schools to insinuate that those opposed to fracking are possible extremists who are at risk of being indoctrinated into being terrorists, the schools should also be instructed to educate their pupils about the threats and risks of fracking. There are many children ( and adults too of course) that have no idea of the true consequences of how fracking would affect their lives. Only two weeks ago I attended the fantastic Manchester anti fracking rally. I returned to Blackpool on the Frack Free Lancashire bus and then had to wait for a local bus to travel the 5 miles home. Two boys of about 15 years old were waiting at the bus stop and asked me what the placard I was carrying was about. I told them I’d been to an anti fracking rally in Manchester and was shocked when one of the boys asked “what’s fracking?” His friend did seem to have some awareness and told him it was getting gas by using lots of water and poisoning the ground. Both boys lived in Poulton-le-Fylde, only a couple of miles from one of Cuadrilla’s sites.
    For schools to be painting anyone opposed to fracking as a potential terrorist whilst at the same time not even educating pupils about fracking and it’s risks just can’t be right.

  7. The accusations of terrorism remind me of the incidents at the Shale Gas World UK 2013 conference where we had Wyre Councillor Gordon Mcann, accusing RAFF and Frack Off of breaking into banks – an accusation he had to humiliatingly climb down from shortly after saying “The comments I made about Residents Action on Fylde Fracking and Frack Off that they were involved with the break in of the Royal Bank of Scotland and reclaiming the streets of London were wrong and unfounded.”.

    It seems the narrative is a common one amongst the more mendacious apologists for fracking doesn’t it?

    As regards inculcating our school kids, at the same conference we had a Cheshire councillor, Andre Dawson, suggesting to the fracking companies that they should use schoolchildren to get their message across. This is what he said:

    “Can I just push the schools to you again – one of the best places for you to get our messages across, one of the best ways to get community engagement is to get the kids talking about it at the dinner table at night with their parents, and actually say ‘Do you know what, I had a presentation from such and such a company. They showed me whatever it is”. And the children not only are our actual future, but they are the most powerful advocates in getting the message across. So, whatever your limited budgets are, spend it on the kids and actually get the education there , because by doing it that way you’ll be getting to many more people than just those in the classroom alone”

    In a similar vein, besmirching the reputation of anyone opposed to fracking by conflating them with domestic extremists and terrorists to kids in school is probably quite an effective tactic too. Shameful but effective.

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