Large numbers of police are using aggressive tactics to make it hard for people to protest against fracking, according to a report published today.
The report’s authors, the police monitoring group, Netpol, have called for an external review of policing at anti-fracking protests in Lancashire and an assessment of nationwide policy.
“We have monitored increasingly confrontational and violent tactics against protesters, efforts to deliberately stifle the effectiveness of their protests and a failure to listen and respond to growing local concerns.
“The likely result is a long-term legacy of resentment and distrust that will last long after protests are over.
“This is why we believe a genuinely independent and external review of Lancashire’s policing operation is now essential.”
The Green Party MEP, Keith Taylor, who is due to launch the report later today outside Cuadrilla’s Lancashire shale gas site, supported Netpol’s calls. He said:
“An authoritarian crackdown on British citizens’ right to protest will not squash fracking opposition.”
Cuadrilla’s site at Preston New Road, near Blackpool, has seen protests since work began in January 2017. Up to the end of September, there had been 320 arrests and 295 charges.
Since September there have been ongoing protests at Third Energy’s fracking site at Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire, where there were 66 arrests and 59 charges. Protesters have also taken action this year outside oil sites in West Sussex and Surrey.
“Attempt to neutralise political impact of protest”
The Netpol report, titled Protecting the Planet is Not a Crime (pdf file), concluded:
“UK policing has sought in 2017 to neutralise the political impact of anti-fracking protests.”
It said the onshore oil and gas industry had lobbied for these tactics. Large numbers of people were being criminalised by a “zero-tolerance approach to disruption”, it said.
The report also concluded that outsiders were being blamed by senior officers and Police and Crime Commissioners for the scale of the protests. Police and local authorities had labelled anti-fracking campaigners as a potential extremist threat.
In Lancashire, Netpol said it had observed evidence of police officers pushing people into hedges, knocking campaigners unconscious, dragging older people across the road and pushing others into traffic.
The report said:
“There have been growing allegations this year of officers making unlawful or incomprehensible arrests.
“One consequence of their rising number, the majority for obstructing the highway, has been to severely restrict the options for civil disobedience, particularly the tactic of ‘slow-walking’ delivery lorries.
At Kirby Misperton, in North Yorkshire, Netpol said it had heard testimony that police were “ready to contain, assault or arrest any demonstrator for the slightest infringements”.
Faced with this zero-tolerance policing, Netpol said:
“Campaigners have often chosen more obstructive direct action methods, such as ‘lock-ons’ or climbing onto lorries.
“Many [campaigners] seem to have made the judgement that, if they face arrest anyway, it might as well result from taking part in an action that is effective.”
Netpol said guidance developed in 2015 was still being used for decision-making and planning at anti-fracking protests. The group had called for a review of the policy by the National Police Chiefs Council. It said:
“The review must begin immediately – and the NPCC must allow external stakeholders with knowledge and experience of the policing of anti-fracking protests, including Netpol, to contribute to it.”
Police and Crime Commissioners
Netpol said the elected Police and Crime Commissioners were concentrating too much on the costs of policing anti-fracking protests and failing to reflect fully local concerns. The report said:
“Police and Crime Commissioners have a responsibility to hold their local forces to account and ensure the police are answerable to the communities they serve. This is even more important in communities where oil or gas exploration has been emphatically rejected.
“Concerns about public confidence costs of policing protests are just as important as financial costs.”
Netpol also raised concerns about an injunction sought by INEOS in July and currently awaiting a decision by the High Court.
The interim injunction covers a large geographic area, including sites for which planning permission has not yet been granted. It seeks to prevent “persons unknown” from conduct that might constitute harassment against INEOS, its supplies or contractors or from committing offences including obstruction of the highway.
Netpol said if the injunction is made permanent other fracking companies could take out further pre-emptive injunctions.
“It may also significantly restrict even further the ability of campaigners to take part in civil disobedience or, indeed, any form of effective protest.”
“Bully boy tactics”
Mr Taylor, MEP for south east England, said the government had failed to persuade people to accept fracking in the UK:
“It is only reasonable then that a coalition of climate activists and ignored local residents have taken to the streets to protest against the climate-destructive process.
“What is entirely unreasonable, however, is the heavy-handed, disproportionate and even violent police and private security operations revealed by Netpol’s latest report.”
Mr Taylor was present outside the Kirby Misperton site when police moved Jackie Brookes, who was serving tea to protesters, away from the gate.
“The bully boy tactics and disproportionate policing I’ve witnessed first-hand, including the shocking treatment of Jackie Brookes the 79-year old ‘tea lady’ from Kirby Misperton, is why I continue to support Netpol’s call for an urgent and independent review of the policing of fracking protests.”
- The formal launch of the report is due at 2pm, outside Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site at Little Plumpton, near Blackpool.
- Forces policing anti-fracking protesters have repeatedly said they take a neutral stand between companies and campaigners. DrillOrDrop will put the Netpol allegations to senior officers and the Police and Crime Commissioners in Lancashire, North Yorkshire, Sussex and Surrey and report on their responses.