Anti-fracking campaigners have called on police to protect their civil right to protest. They were responding to a report published this morning alleging “confrontational and “aggressive” policing. Two police forces in fracking protest areas said they have a duty to balance the right to protest with rights of the wider public.
The report, by the police monitoring group Netpol, called for an external and independent review of policing at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site near Blackpool in Lancashire. DrillOrDrop article here
Netpol reported on protest policing at Preston New Road, Third Energy’s Kirby Misperton well pad in North Yorkshire and at sites in Sussex and Surrey.
DrillOrDrop invited police forces and police and crime commissioners in all four counties to respond to Netpol’s allegations. This article will be updated as we receive new responses.
“Our aim as always is to ensure is a consistent and coordinated policing response and ensure a balance between the rights of people to peacefully protest, together with the rights of the wider public, including local businesses, to go about their lawful activities.
“We aim to prevent, where possible, crime and disorder, but if it does occur we will provide an effective, lawful and proportionate response.”
Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner, Clive Grunshaw
“The policing operation on Preston New Road is in place to ensure public safety on what is a very busy and vital route.
“Officers at the fracking site are caught between competing demands of facilitating peaceful protest and allowing companies to conduct their lawful business, as well as keeping an important emergency services route open as much as possible.
“Where people do have concerns about the actions of the police, in these cases there is a well-publicised, robust complaints procedure which makes sure that individual incidents are fully investigated.”
“Inconsistent and oppressive policing”
Frack Free Lancashire
A spokesperson said:
“Since Cuadrilla started work we have continually expressed concern about the way in which Lancashire Police have facilitated their work, but have not given equal weight to the right to protest of those opposed to the fracking operations.
“We are fighting a David versus Goliath battle against an invasive industry and yet the current policing model has created a skewed narrative that it is protesters versus the police.
“Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, we need the police to protect our hard-won civil right to protest, but this is simply not happening.
“Instead we face inconsistent and oppressive policing, from forces from all around the country, which use legislation intended for industrial disputes to criminalise citizens who have explored all other legitimate means of protest and have seen fracking imposed upon them in spite of a democratic decision to forbid it.
“We once again call upon our MP, Mark Menzies, to recognise the importance of this issue for all of the community that he represents and to ask some serious questions in parliament.”
“Lancashire protest policing is proportionate and necessary”
“Netpol, which provides activists with guidance on how to evade arrest when undertaking direct action and is therefore hardly an unbiased observer, is wholly wrong to suggest that the policing response in Lancashire has been anything but proportionate and necessary.
“If it weren’t for a small number of hardened national activists intent on causing trouble, the protests on Preston New Road could have enjoyed a much more low-key policing response. As it is, the police have had no choice but to maintain a large number of officers at the site just-in-case.
“When officer numbers have been scaled-back, activists have been quick to take advantage with lock-on protests and ‘lorry surfing’.
“If Netpol is truly worried about the costs of policing fracking protests, which now exceed £4 million in Lancashire, it could help to reduce them by actively discouraging unlawful forms of protest.”
“Responsibility to carry out duties impartially”
North Yorkshire Police
Superintendent Alisdair Dey, of North Yorkshire Police, said:
“We know that there are very different views about hydraulic fracturing, but as the local police, our responsibility is to carry out our duties impartially.
“That means we have a duty to make sure that people who want to assemble and protest do so safely, balanced against a duty to ensure that businesses can go about their lawful commercial activity.
“We’ll continue to take a neighbourhood policing approach to protests – we will talk to people, explain what is acceptable in terms of safety and reasonableness, and ask them to work with us to make this a safe and peaceful protest.”
“Emotionally-charged and sensitive area”
Chief Inspector Howard Hodges said:
“Protest policing is a complex area that is often highly emotionally charged and sensitive. As a service we have a duty to protect public safety during protests. Police must be able to respond quickly to changing situations in way that is intelligence-led, proportionate, transparent and ensures the rights of all parties are protected.
“In Surrey and Sussex we remain committed to policing protest events in relation to oil and gas activity in such a manner as to protect life, prevent damage to property and facilitate peaceful protest whilst maintaining the freedom of the community and business to engage in lawful activity.
“In all protests, the police service is tasked with maintaining order and safety. We do not engage on either side of the debate – our job is to keep the peace.
“The content of this report has been noted and we remain committed to learning and delivering this area of policing activity in the most effective way possible.”
“Trust must be repaired”
Green Party MEP, Keith Taylor
“If local residents are beginning to question whether officers are working to protect them or just the interests of the oil and gas industry, the notion of consent has broken down – and trust must be repaired.”