The organisation which monitors protest policing has raised concerns about tactics by officers at opposition to onshore drilling in West Sussex.
Netpol said Sussex Police had described a section of road on the route to the Broadford Bridge oil exploration site near Billingshurst as a “tolerated slow walking area”.
The 600m route was marked on a map (above) and given to protesters who had gathered outside the site in Adversane Lane.
But on the first occasion the proposal was tested, on 1 June, Netpol said officers began issuing warnings when protesters were no more than 20 metres into the indicated area. Protesters were also filmed by police evidence gatherers, Netpol said.
A Netpol representative, who was monitoring the protest, said:
“We saw some officers quickly become very aggressive and one protester was arrested for failing to give his name and address under Section 50 powers [of the Police Reform Act] designed for tackling anti-social behaviour. The officer claimed the protester had allegedly called him a ‘pig’ and said this constituted ‘anti-social behaviour’.
“What was evident from the events we witnessed at Broadford Bridge was that officers had either not been briefed about a ‘tolerated slow walking area’ or that Sussex Police had abandoned the proposal, without informing protesters, within hours of offering it.
“This contrast between promises made by senior officers and what actually happens on the ground is an issue Netpol has heard time and again at anti-fracking protests around the country. It leads to the uncertainty about what might trigger an arrest that is part of the ‘chilling effect’ on rights to protest we warned about last year.”
Netpol said protesters were increasingly reluctant to believe anything they were told by the police. The organisation added:
“Sussex Police does seem to have set a new record, however, in how quickly it says it plans to conduct an operation and then how quickly its officers deliver the exact opposite.”
DrillOrDrop asked Sussex Police to respond to Netpol’s complaints. We will update this post with any comment.