PHOTO: Cheryl Atkinson, Facebook

PUBLIC CONSULTATION ON PROTEST POLICING GUIDANCE CLOSES 27 SEPTEMBER 2019

In August, the National Police Chiefs Council finally released its new draft “Protest Operational Advice” that will provide national guidance to local police forces on how they conduct policing operations involving protests.

Netpol has pushed hard for public consultation on this guidance every since the NPCC promised to review it back in March 2016. Two years later, in March 2018, 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.

This new Protest Operational Advice replaces guidance given to police forces in 2015 specifically for protests against the onshore oil and gas industry and particularly fracking. It is now been broadened out to include all protests.

Public consultation is open until 27 September 2019 and the draft document is available here.

This is an opportunity to talk about experiences on the front-line and demand the guidance is improved.

Why does this matter? Isn’t the difference between guidance and what happens on the ground always different?

That is certainly true, but this document can potentially become the benchmark against which the public can decide if the policing of protests has bothered to even consider respect for human rights.

That’s why we want to work with campaigners to make sure their experiences are documented and presented to the National Police Chiefs Council. This is so the next time protesters challenge oppressive policing, they can say “we told you your guidance needed to address our concerns”.

…this document can potentially become the benchmark against which the public can decide if the policing of protests has bothered to even consider respect for human rights.

Making a submission

Please think about pulling together your own experiences into a submission. You don’t have to cover everything: you can choose to focus on one issue that is a particular concern to you. Below we have set out some examples that may help you.

You also do not need to write pages and pages. What is more important is that you set our your concerns.

Once, you are ready, you need to send your submission by email to anika.ludwig@college.pnn.police.uk.

We would appreciate it if you can share your submission with us by also sending it to info@netpol.org

So what should you include in your submission?

If you have read through what is a fairly confusing document, you will see that it seems, on the face of it, very much focused on human rights and what it calls the “welfare of those engaged in the protest”.

However, what we need to consider is the huge assumptions it makes, the gaps that it fails to cover and the changes that are therefore necessary.

The claim to “balance”

The document makes much (in pages 11-16) of the need for a “balanced and impartial approach” and “recognising that protest inherently involves multiple stakeholders”.

The problem with this for many of us is that there is little evidence of any such “balance” existing in real life. Protests inevitably cause disruption: but too often the police have demonstrably sided with companies and restricted the right to protest.

We believe the legal basis for this is deeply flawed – the Netpol Lawyers Group is looking at a more detailed submission on the legality of what the National Police Chiefs Council has put forward.

This is why it is equally important to give clear examples of when this has taken place. Within the different protests against fracking there are many we can think of:

  • Greater Manchester Police’s relationship with IGas at Barton Moss including insider access to Gold and Silver senior police command meetings, daily briefings or video conferences with the Silver Commander and shared police and local council information and intelligence.
  • Bronze and Silver commander met with Eclipse Security (UKOG) and supply chain hauliers over protests at Broadford Bridge in Sussex in March 2017
  • Court documents made public by fracking company INEOS revealing that counter-terrorism officers met with the trade body United Kingdom Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG) in 2017 and advised them on “the use of injunctions through the civil courts”.
  • Rathlin Energy seeking and obtaining support from Humberside Police to persuade East Riding of Yorkshire Council to implement road closures and the eviction of a monitoring station at West Newton.
  • Lancashire Police facilitated breaches of planning conditions on out-of-hours deliveries to Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site.
  • Nottinghamshire Police introduced Section 14 restrictions on the location and numbers attending protests at Tinker Lane, at the request of IGas

These are simply the more formal examples where the notion that the police occupy some kind of neutral ground, one that involves the difficult job seeking to “balance” between competing interests, has been repeatedly undermined.

Campaigners have complained that this is commonplace too for everyday frontline policing.

This is why this is an issue we urge campaigners to highlight from their personal experiences.

Intrusive intelligence

The new guidance (page 14) says intelligence is essential to “assess if protestors’ actions are aimed at the destruction of rights and freedoms of others”. It adds (page 15) the “public are entitled to expect that the police will be diligent in assessing the motivations and actions of protesters”.

For longer-term protests, it goes on to say (page 15), “it is important that the police build evidence of the effect on local communities, businesses and transport networks from the start”.

However, this is a justification for extensive, intrusive surveillance, with no indications on the impact this has on the freedom to protest.

The focus is only on the “effect on local communities and businesses” of protests, not on the consequences of oppressive intelligence-gathering on local communities and businesses who are opposed to, say, a fracking site.

The consultation is an opportunity to show what the impact of this surveillance – and arrests used as a means of gathering intelligence – has on the ability to protest effectively and on the “chilling effect” it can have on people’s willingness to exercise their rights.

The role of Police Liaison Officers

The new guidance says (page 23) the introduction of Police Liaison Teams has “gone some way” to address communication with groups “mistrustful of the police”. It adds that “any perception that the police are seeking information in advance in order to undermine protest should be avoided”.

We think it is simply untrue and that it is important to demonstrate that relying on Police Liaison Officers has failed.

There is little evidence they have improved communication in any way at any protests where policing has also been oppressive and violent.

Fundamentally, it is not just the “perception” that gathering information to undermine protests that is the problem: it is that there is evidence this is actually happening.

If you have examples, we suggest you give them in your submission.

Vulnerability of protesters

The guidance (page 33) mentions “people who may become vulnerable at protests” and says this must “inform police decision making”. However, it says nothing about how, for example, repeatedly pushing someone from their wheelchair, or reporting disabled people to the DWP, is supposed to protect their welfare – or their right to participate in protests.

You may want to highlight this issue and demand clearer guidance on the police’s obligations to prevent disability discrimination.

Protecting the rights of children to participate in protests

The guidance mentions in passing (page 33) the importance of safeguarding children and young people and says if there is the prospect of children attending a protest, there is a specific duty on the police to consider this when planning an operation.

What it does not say, however, is anything about how to stop safeguarding concerns tipping over into obstructing young people from exercising their rights.

Again, there is no advice on the restrictions or limits of this and no mention at all about Article 13 or Article 15 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

There have been examples of the police reporting people to social services for bringing their children to a protest, or referring children as “vulnerable to radicalisation”.

If this is something you can talk about, you may want to focus in particular on this issue.

Communication with stakeholders

The guidance talks (page 27) about “capturing the impact of protest on communities” and says this can “inform future communications with protestors” because “protestors may decide to alter their approach to reduce its impact” [our emphasis].

However, there is nothing here the long-term legacy of an aggressive policing operation and the mistrust it can create, nothing about “capturing the impact of policing on communities” and nothing about the police deciding to alter their approach to reduce their impact.

If this is a particular concern for you – if you are, for example, a parish or county councillor concerned about the future consequences of a confrontational policing operation – then this is perhaps an area where you may wish to share your experiences.

there is nothing here the long-term legacy of an aggressive policing operation and the mistrust it can create

Don’t forget – send in your submissions to the College of Policing (anika.ludwig@college.pnn.police.uk) by 27 September 2019