Less than half the arrests at long-running protests outside Cuadrilla’s fracking site have so far ended in convictions, according to figures from Lancashire’s Police and Crime Commissioner.
Opponents of Cuadrilla’s operation at Preston New Road near Blackpool said this backs up their case that police used arrests as a tactic to remove protesters from the site.
Lancashire Police was invited to comment on the data. This post will be updated with any response.
The conviction data was included in recent correspondence between the office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) and an anti-fracking campaigner. DrillOrDrop understands this is the first time that the annual number of convictions from the Preston New Road protests has been publicly released.
The numbers show that since the protests began in January 2017 there have been a total of 220 convictions. During the same time, there were a total of 449 arrests and 429 charges.
The conviction figure may rise, according to the PCC, because the charges resulting from arrests in 2019 have not yet reached court.
But based on the current totals, 49% of arrests and 51% of charges have resulted in convictions. The UK conviction rate in magistrates’ courts, where most of the Preston New Road cases have been heard, averaged more than 80%.
The PCC data showed that the numbers for arrests, charges and convictions have all dropped sharply since the first year of the protests.
2017 saw nearly three quarters of the total number of arrests and charges and more than 80% of convictions.
According to the PCC, there have been just 36 convictions (16% of the total) in the 18 months from January 2018 to June 2019.
- The Lancashire PCC data on arrests and charges varied slightly from that published online by Lancashire Police.
Nick Danby, of Frack Free Lancashire, who wrote to the PCC about police strategy at Preston New Road, said:
“It is my belief that arrest has been used as a means to remove campaigners from the arena rather than because they have actually committed an indictable offence.”
He asked the PCC for a breakdown of the convictions by offence to indicate if any were for threatening or aggressive behaviour. This data was not provided. But in response to the figures in the correspondence, Mr Danby said:
“There is a clear disconnect between the number arrested and the number actually convicted.”
The policing operation at Preston New Road has been criticised as “heavy handed and inconsistent”. Mr Danby said:
“We think that the policing at the site has totally failed to strike any balance at all between the legitimate right to protest and the rights of Cuadrilla to operate a business.
“The police have, in fact, actively facilitated the industry and done their utmost to deter peaceful protest.
Gina Dowding, Green Party MEP for north west England, said the arrest figures were a reminder of what she called “draconian policing and “infringement of people’s right to protest”. She said:
“With less than half of the arrests at Preston New Road resulting in convictions, it is apparent that the policing tactics at protests seem to be directed as an over-zealous deterrent, rather than facilitating the right to protest, as the police continually state they are doing.”
Ms Dowding added:
“This begs the question: where is the direction coming from for our police resources to be spent in this way? Where is the consent from the public for police to be targeting peaceful protest rather than the real criminal gangs and corporate fraud which really undermines society?”
Protest policing cost
The PCC’s correspondence also confirmed that the total cost of policing the Preston New Road protests now stands at more than £11.75m.
So far, the Home Office has paid 85% of the costs for 2017-2018 and £5.9m for 2018-2019, the PCC said. A further claim would be submitted for 2019-2020.
Lancashire Police’s webpage on the protests said “on a daily basis, there are approximately 100 officers directly involved in the policing of the fracking operation”.
Mr Danby described this as “completely disproportionate”.
Fracking the second well at Preston New Road was suspended on 26 August 2109 after just over a fortnight following the UK’s strongest fracking-induced seismic event. The company is currently testing the flow rate of gas in the well.
Mr Danby said:
“We feel very strongly that our protests have been vindicated by the recent series of earth tremors which culminated in a 2.9m tremor, which led to all fracking being suspended.
“The police have frequently told us that they are at the site for our safety but this is nonsense. We are protecting the community and the fact that there is such a heavy police deployment gives a clear indication as to the popularity of the industry. No other industry requires this level of police protection.
“We sincerely hope that Lancashire police will now recognise that their current strategy for Preston New Road does not protect the community which it is supposed to serve. It only protects the interests of a climate-wrecking and earthquake-inducing industry.”
Conviction rates at other protest sites
Kirby Misperton (September 2017-March 2018)
- 86 arrests, 62 charges, 42 convictions (North Yorkshire Police data here and here)
- 48% arrests ended in convictions; 67% of charges ended in convictions
- Policing costs: £700,660
Barton Moss (November 2013-February 2014)
- 120 people arrested, 115 people charged, 33 people convicted, 22 cases unresolved at time of research (Keep Moving report)
- 28% of people arrested were convicted; 29% of people charged were convicted
- Policing costs £1.7m
Balcombe (July-September 2013)
- 126 arrests, 114 charges, 29 convictions (DrillOrDrop data)
- 23% of arrests ended in convictions, 25% of charges ended in convictions
- Policing costs £3.985m (Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner)