“A long-term legacy of resentment and distrust” – new report calls for an independent review of the policing of Lancashire anti-fracking protests

On Monday 20 November, the Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol) is launching its latest report on the policing of anti-fracking protests, which focuses in large part on events in Lancashire.

The launch will take place at the site of months of continued opposition to the shale gas company Cuadrilla at Preston New Road near Blackpool.

The report, ‘Protecting the Planet is Not a Crime’, looks back over a momentous year where in Lancashire alone, there have been over 300 arrests. It explores how UK policing appears to have chosen to try and neutralise the political impact of these protests and argues that the police have failed to distance themselves from perceived influence of lobbying by the onshore oil and gas industry.

In Lancashire, where exploration was emphatically rejected through local democratic processes but subsequently imposed by central government, this raises fundamental questions about how the police are able to maintain public consent for strategic decisions seen as aiding an unwanted industry.

The report also highlights how the adoption of zero-tolerance tactics towards any form of disruption has not only criminalised large numbers of people, but appears to have the opposite effect than the one the police intended: it has escalated further civil disobedience rather than reduced it.

Netpol has argued that, with so many complaints about aggressive police tactics in Lancashire, there is now an overwhelming case for a genuinely independent external review of the operation at Preston New Road.

Netpol is a national human rights organisation that has monitored the policing of anti-fracking protests since 2014. It has documented concerns throughout 2017 about breaches of fundamental rights to freedom of expression and assembly. In May, it helped local campaigners to organise an open letter to Lancashire’s Chief Constable about the way protesters have been treated.

The Green Party’s Keith Taylor MEP, who has pushed hard for a comprehensive review of nationwide policy on the policing of anti-fracking protests, is speaking at the launch. The National Police Chief’s Council lead for this long-promised review is Lancashire Police’s Assistant Chef Constable Terry Wood.

Kevin Blowe, the coordinator for Netpol, said:

“We have monitored increasingly confrontational and violent tactics against protesters, efforts to deliberately stifle the effectiveness of their protests and a failure to listen and respond to growing local concerns. The likely result is a long-term legacy of resentment and distrust that will last long after protests are over. This is why we believe a genuinely independent and external review of Lancashire’s policing operation is now essential”.

Keith Taylor MEP said:

“The heavy-handed and disproportionate policing I’ve witnessed firsthand is why I continue to support Netpol’s call for an urgent and independent review of the policing of fracking protests. An authoritarian crackdown on British citizens’ right to protest will not squash fracking opposition.”