PHOTO: Frack Free Greater Manchester

PHOTO: Frack Free Greater Manchester

The association representing trades councils across the Manchester metropolitan area has warned Police and Crime Commissioner Tony Lloyd of an erosion of the right to protest and calls for a review of the activities of Greater Manchester Police’s Tactical Aid Unit

Along with evidence that some Greater Manchester Police (GMP) officers are breaching force regulations by failing to wear shoulder identification and serious questions about the impartiality of GMP’s policing operation at Barton Moss, Manchester’s Police and Crime Commissioner Tony Lloyd now faces a call by trade unionists for an urgent independent review of GMP’s public order unit.

In a robust letter (pdf_icon, 68 kB) to Lloyd dated 18 July, Greater Manchester Association of Trades Councils (GMATUC) raised concerns about the way “the right to protest is being eroded and undermined and what feels like legitimate protest criminalised in an attempt to silence dissent”. GMATUC describes as “frankly horrendous” the police operation against protesters at Barton Moss in Salford who opposed to drilling by the fracking company IGas, saying it has left a legacy of “citizens in our county who because of this episode now find it impossible to trust any man or woman wearing the GMP badge”.

Rejecting the allegation made by GMP’s Chief Constable Sir Peter Fahy that his officers had been ‘provoked’ and protesters were ‘personally insulting’ to them, the letter adds that “in our experience… after the first witness of, or experience of police brutality, protestors tend to respond like this”. A recent Freedom of Information request (word, 131 kB) by Netpol confirmed that 40% of the 77 complaints by Barton Moss protesters were specifically about the misuse of force by GMP officers.

GMATUC singles out the behavior of GMP’s specialist Tactical Aid Unit (TAU), which is responsible for public order policing, saying, “We are not confident that this branch of GMP is fit for purpose”. Trade unionists are calling on Lloyd to instigate an independent review of the policing of protest in Greater Manchester and specifically the role and function of the TAU. The letter says:

Whilst we also recognise that there can be “bad apples” in any branch of policing, and fracking protectors described some officers as such by police lapel number in complaints, we are clear that our concern is about the much bigger issue of the leadership of and the operation of the Tactical Aid Unit as a whole service.

TAU-vanIn 2010, the TAU featured in the Channel 4 documentary ‘Coppers’, which documented the heavy-handed police response and dismissive attitudes of GMP officers towards protesters taking part in a counter-demonstration against the EDL in Bolton. One officer is shown justifying his level of aggression, saying:

“Unfortunately the only way to deal with disorder on occasions is to obviously get hands on, to be aggressive towards individuals, and to obviously escalate it to that level where they understand that, if you do do something, they’re not going to get away with it.”

Netpol has approached the Police and Crime Commissioner’s Office for comment about the concerns raised by Manchester trades unionists and whether its new Ethics Panel, whose membership was announced this week, will examine the policing at Barton Moss. We await a reply.