In an important win for anti-fracking campaigners, the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) has backed down and agreed to a public consultation on changes to its guidance on the policing of anti-fracking protests.
Netpol has monitored these protests since 2014 and in our most recent report, ‘Protecting the Planet is Not a Crime’, we documented numerous concerns about the way the police have responded to opposition to fracking at sites around England. Testimony from campaigners included evidence of police officers pushing people into hedges and even knocking them unconscious, violently dragging older people across the road and shoving others into speeding traffic.
Last Friday, Netpol delivered a petition signed by over 1200 people from around the country, which called on police chiefs to listen to and meaningfully consult with the anti-fracking movement on the way future protests are policed.
In an accompanying email to the NPCC, which represents the UK’s senior police officers, Netpol emphasised that at the very least, any meaningful consultation process required a clear remit, questions publicised on the NPCC website, a reasonable deadline and a single point of contact for submissions.
Within a matter of hours, in a significant retreat from their previous position, the NPCC’s Lead on Shale Gas and Oil Exploration, Lancashire Assistant Chief Constable Terry Woods, told Netpol that “having had time to reflect”, he had decided to undertake wider public consultation.
Since Netpol addressed a conference of senior officers in Derby in March 2016, the NPCC has repeatedly promised to review the directions it gives local forces on the policing of anti-fracking protests. It took over a year, however, to appoint a senior officer to lead a review and the NPCC has subsequently been very reluctant to consult directly with campaign groups. The Green Party’s south-east England MEP Keith Taylor has been instrumental in helping to push for the review to take place.
What happens next?
Assistant Chief Constable Woods has indicated that after discussions with the NPCC and the College of Policing, campaigners will see a plan for the consultation later this month, along with further details of its remit.
Meanwhile, anti-fracking groups should start to consider what evidence and statements they might want to provide.
What, for example, are the specific factors that make anti-fracking protests so different from other public order operations and thus necessitate separate guidance? What impact do these issues have on the way police should plan their operations in the future, including the duty to both facilitate and protect human rights? What particular challenges or concerns have campaigners faced at protest sites since the release of the current guidance in 2015?
Netpol plans to help coordinate submissions to the review to ensure that many of the complaints, concerns and negative experiences about police misconduct that protesters have told us about over the last two years are reflected in testimony to the NPCC consultation.
This is an opportunity to place more pressure on the national bodies for British policing to start listening to campaigners. It is a chance, too, to insist the NPCC makes significant changes to the advice it gives to local police commanders facing sustained opposition to the onshore oil and gas industry.
For more information on Netpol’s campaign to raise awareness and encourage debate amongst elected representatives and in the media about the pressing need to change policing strategies on anti-fracking protests, see Protecting the Protectors.