Most complaints made by protesters at demonstrations were about vehicles being driven at them, or violence from police or security staff, according to a new initiative.
Protest Justice, a grassroots organisation supporting activists, has begun analysing data on complaints arising from incidents at protests.
The first published set of data shows that 29% of complaints were about vehicles being driven at protesters.
Just under a quarter (22%) were about violence or aggression by police and the same proportion about violence or aggression by security staff.
Almost a fifth (19%) were about intimidation by either police, security staff or suppliers.
Carol Towner, the coordinator of Protest Justice, said:
“We were alarmed by the frequency that protesters reported vehicles being used as weapons to intimidate them. This tactic appears to be mainly used by suppliers delivering to a site but there are also reports of some site and security staff engaging in this malpractice. Video and photographic evidence has been gathered to substantiate these reports and it is clear that this dangerous practice is common across the country.”
In one incident, she said video footage of a slow walking protest shows a protester being pushed along the road by a lorry. Police liaison officers witnessed the incident but did not intervene, Ms Towner said.
Protest Justice said it had notified a number of the companies involved that incidents had been recorded involving their vehicles. It had also informed transport associations and the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, which regulates the haulage industry.
Ms Towner said:
“Where in the world would driving a tonne or more of metal at a human being be considered acceptable or normal behaviour? The police failure to address this properly is, in our opinion, nothing less than dereliction of duty.”
Protest Justice was launched in December 2018 in response to reports that anti-fracking protesters faced ongoing aggression. So far, it has analysed complaints about incidents for four months up to April 2019. It aims to identify whether there are patterns of behaviour used against protesters. Current analysis of historical footage of anti-fracking protests across the UK is taking place, with the next report due towards the end of this year.
On police aggression, Protest Justice said it had received reports of activists being dragged, held, pushed, kicked in the genitals and of injuries including broken bones and dislocations.
Ms Towner said:
“It is concerning that the reports of this behaviour, whilst widespread, do seem to throw up repeat collar numbers. This in itself needs to be dissected further to identify patterns of behaviour.”
Aggressive behaviour by security guards reportedly escalated when police were not present, Protest Justice said.
Incidents reported have included security personnel forcibly removing items from protest sites, assaulting protesters, being verbally abusive and behaving in a way that would antagonise or intimidate protesters.
It is also reported that security personnel deliberately hid, or did not display correctly, their Security Industry Authority badges, against guidelines.
Protest Justice said it would help people to make effective complaints and follow them through to a satisfactory conclusion. They believe it is also important that information is given to them by protesters, even if they do not wish to make a complaint, as it helps show the reality of what is happening on the ‘front line’.
Ms Towner said:
“Too many people at protests are being needlessly harassed, assaulted, injured or victimised by police and private security staff. We feel it’s time for balance and for the “little guy” to have a voice which will be heard. We have recently been informed of an increase in disproportionate behaviour at the XR and HS2 protests.
“The police rely on people giving up on their complaints because it is too stressful or difficult, or they feel intimidated. Together we can oppose this injustice and bring much needed scrutiny to these situations.
“We want to empower, facilitate and support individuals who wish to make a complaint against the perpetrators of the inappropriate events they have either experienced or witnessed.”
Protest Justice said its core belief was that peaceful protest should not be met with violence. It said the initiative aimed to protect people who wanted to exercise their right to protest.
“The impact on the well-being of those protesters, and the people who witness others being hurt or abused, can be long-term, both physically and emotionally.
“When inappropriate behaviour toward protesters is not tackled early in a protest, it becomes entrenched very quickly and seen as ‘normal’, this of course could not be further from the truth.
“There have been more protests this year than ever before due to Brexit, climate change, fracking, austerity, NHS cuts and so much more.
“With the situation not looking like it will change imminently we have to address the issues about bad protest policing – frankly, enough is enough.”