Politics

Calls for independent review of “confrontational” policing at anti-fracking protests

 

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Policing at Cuadrilla’s shale gas site, Preston New Road, Little Plumpton, 1 March 2017. Photo: Peter Yankowski

Large numbers of police are using aggressive tactics to make it hard for people to protest against fracking, according to a report published today.

171120 netpol reportThe 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.

Reaction to the report from police and campaigners

Netpol said:

“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.”

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Policing at Preston New Road, 20 July 2017. Photo: DrillOrDrop

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Confrontation outside Cuadrilla contractor, A E Yates, in Bolton, 14 February 2017. Photo: Peter Yankowski

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.

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Policing at Preston New Road, near Blackpool, 9 October 2017. Photo: Still from video

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”.

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Policing at Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire, 9 October 2017. Photo: Eddie Thornton

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.”

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Near Third Energy’s Kirby Misperton site, 25 October 2017. Photo: Kirby Misperton Protection Camp

National review

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.”

Injunction

171025 Woodsetts siteNetpol 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”

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Keith Taylor at Kirby Misperton, 9 October 2017. Photo: Keith Taylor

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.

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Jackie Brookes, moved by police from outside the Third Energy site at Kirby Misperton, 9 October 2017. Photo: Kirby Misperton Protection Camp

He said:

“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.

Reaction to the report from police and campaigners

20 replies »

  1. Mr.Taylor is an MEP for South East England. Why on earth should we be interested in his hobby activities? They haven’t any proposals for fracking in the South East, so how has he become a “spokesperson” for antis in Yorkshire and Lancashire? If this is representative of the engagement from VIPs, I’m not certain many locals in either county , would find it particularly relevant. Taking into account his coming redundancy, it appears to be more of a job application. But, there will be a few of them chasing the same jobs.

    • Dear oh dear? Personality derogation again is it martin? Standard procedure i suppose? Is there training? Or just a natural dis…..ability?

  2. It would also be relevant to ask about the amount of resources compared to the severity of the criminal convictions obtained. Only a very tiny number of people have been found guilty and those are for minor offences.
    We need the police to be keeping us safe rather than providing free security services for drilling companies.

  3. David Collyer, it seems like your understanding of democracy is incomplete, as you seem not to realise that we have rights and freedoms, which include the right to engage in a meaningful and effective form of protest (enshrined in ECHR via Articles 10 & 11, which are ratified into English law by the HRA 1998).
    In our democracy, our right to engage in a meaningful form of protest is one of the final checks against a government acting against the will and the interests of the people they are supposed to represent. This important piece of Case Law handed down from the European Court of Human Rights should clarify things for you, if you need that.
    (it should only be in a Police State that meaningful protest is not lawful, and is therefore not tolerated, but you seem to have confused that with the democratic kind of state we live in here in the UK)

    The European Courts have long recognized that lawful protests can and frequently do cause some disruption to ordinary life. In Kuznetzova v Russia the ECHR reiterated:
    “that any demonstration in a public place inevitably causes a certain level of disruption to ordinary life, including disruption of traffic, and that it is important for the public authorities to show a certain degree of tolerance towards peaceful gatherings if the freedom of assembly guaranteed by Article 11 of the Convention is not to be deprived of all substance…Accordingly, the Court is not satisfied that the alleged obstruction of passage, especially in the circumstances where the applicant gave evidence of his flexibility and readiness to cooperate with the authorities, was a relevant and sufficient reason for the interference…the Court reiterates that any measures interfering with the freedom of assembly and expression other than in cases of incitement to violence or rejection of democratic principles – however shocking and unacceptable certain views or words used may appear to the authorities – do a disservice to democracy and often even
    endanger it. In a democratic society based on the rule of law, the ideas which challenge the existing order must be afforded a proper opportunity of expression through the exercise of the right of assembly as well as by other lawful means.”

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