Researchers question violence and harassment against protesters and police’s role in seeking to undermine the legitimacy of the protest
A new report on the Greater Manchester Police (GMP) operation at the Barton Moss Community Protection Camp in Salford from November 2013 until April 2014, produced by researchers from Liverpool John Moores University and the University of York, has raised serious questions about police violence and harassment against protesters “including gendered violence experienced by women” and “the dominant media and public portrayal of the protest and the protesters, including the role played by GMP in influencing this portrayal”.
The report’s key findings highlight how, although the Barton Moss protest was overwhelmingly peaceful, the nature and scale of GMP’s operation had the effect of undermining the right of protesters to protest peacefully. It argues that “violent behaviour and harassment were central features of the policing operation”, with several women reporting “sexualised violence by GMP officers”, drawing particular attention to the role played by the force’s specialist public order Tactical Aid Unit.
By contrast, the overwhelming majority (98%) of arrests of protesters were for non-violent offences and the two-thirds (66%) of those arrested had their cases dropped, dismissed or been found not guilty by the courts. casting doubt “on the legitimacy of GMP’s characterisation of the protest as ‘extremely violent’.” Nevertheless, lurid stories about Barton Moss are still repeated by police to smear protesters at the camp as examples of “domestic extremists”.
The report also details how mass arrest and the use of blanket police bail conditions “in effect served to create a protest exclusion zone around the fracking site”, one that “enabled police officers to control the movement of protesters without recourse to the formal criminal justice system”.
Researchers point to evidence that Greater Manchester Police was more concerned with justifying its operation “and questioning the legitimacy of the protest” than providing the public with clear information. In contrast to the official police portrayal of the protest as consisting of outside ‘agitators’, the Barton Moss protest “was overwhelmingly local in its composition”. The report adds that the behaviour of GMP officers throughout “had the effect of prioritising commercial interests over the right of local residents and supporters to exercise their right to protest” and the cumulative impact was “the routine abuse of police powers at the expense of protesters’ civil liberties”.
The report is critical of the ‘Independent Advisory Panel on the Policing of Protest’ set up by Greater Manchester’s Police and Crime Commissioner (and now Mayor) Tony Lloyd. In October 2014, it published the findings of its investigation into Barton Moss and claimed that none of those it spoke to “witnessed behaviour by police that could be categorised as violent”, insisting that “claims of police violence have not been substantiated”.
Unsurprisingly GMP welcomed these conclusions but researchers found that the Panel’s findings had “largely excluded the voices of the protesters and was not only unrepresentative of the experiences of protesters involved at Barton Moss, but represented one perspective of a complex series of events”.
Instead, they noted that “a collective response from protesters, including the use of legal observers, police monitoring groups and defence campaigns, played a vital role in holding police officers to account”.
The report;s authors are recommending a fully independent public inquiry into the policing of the Barton Moss protests, covering the proportionality of the policing operation and tactics, the accuracy of information conveyed to the public, the use of police bail, the high number of failed prosecutions and the relationship between GMP and drilling company IGas.
As a result of the way police bail was used at Barton Moss, they add:
We support Netpol’s call for the routine collection of pre-charge bail statistics and a complete withdrawal of the use of pre-charge conditions for protest-related offences.
The fifty-six page ‘Keep Moving!’ report, by Dr Joanna Gilmore (York Law School, University of York), Dr Will Jackson and Dr Helen Monk (both at the School of Humanities and Social Science, Liverpool John Moores University) is available to download here [, 2.5 Mb]