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Protester in Balcombe, West Sussex, August 2013. PHOTO: Randi Sokoloff – Shutterstock.com

With an election looming, it is time to insist Police and Crime Commissioners address the worrying lack of accountability of major policing operations against anti-fracking protests

Next Thursday, on 5 May, voters in 41 police force areas in England & Wales, excluding London, will elect for their Police and Crime Commissioner, whose role is supposed to hold local police to account for delivering policing based on public demands.

This includes the policing of protest – and in particular, the response of the police to local opposition against fracking sites. With the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) saying it is about to review its strategic guidance for forces on this issue, it is part of Police and Crime Commissioners’ role to engage with the public about the impact of huge operations like the ones seen in Upton in Cheshire and Barton Moss in Greater Manchester.

Police and Crime Commissioners should ensure the NPCC, as well as their own Chief Constables, are aware of concerns about infringements of the freedom to assemble, about the safety of people taking part in protests and about unnecessary and intrusive surveillance on campaigners.

This is particularly pressing in areas that currently have active fracking sites or are expecting them soon: in Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, North Wales, North Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, South Wales, South Yorkshire, Surrey and Sussex.

The evidence of the police’s close interest in surveillance on the anti-fracking movement means that Netpol’s eighteen questions on the way the police target local protests – set out in the briefing we produced last summer – remain extremely pressing.

With a week to go until the election, we encourage voters to ask questions of their PCC candidates – and to follow up with lobbying for a local debate on the right to protest against fracking and other forms of unconventional energy extraction.

Three questions for local Police and Crime Commissioner candidates

  • Will Police and Crime Commissioner candidates agree to listen to and actively engage with local people on the policing of future anti-fracking protests?
  • Will they agree to submit local opinions to the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s review of current strategy?
  • Will they insist their local Chief Constable draws up and consults on a local plan to ensure the police’s legal duty to protect the freedom to assemble and protest is properly delivered?

To find out the candidates in your area, visit choosemypcc.org.uk