Local people branded “extremist” by Surrey County Council. PHOTO: Frack Free Surrey

Almost three years after the Home Office confirmed opposition to fracking is no longer seen as an “indicator of vulnerability to extremism”, Surrey County Council continues to brand anti-fracking campaigners as “extremists” based on advice given by Surrey Police in 2019.

Last month, a student attending a language short course complained to Surrey Adult Learning because of a Prevent counter-terrorism “British Values” video shown to the class included references to “protesting against fracking” as an alleged “extremist” activity.

In response to the complaint, the county council department’s safeguarding officer replied saying this was deliberately included “to contextualise extremist action to Surrey”. In an email seen by Netpol, the officer said that “when making the video earlier this year the police advice was that the main extremist areas of concern in Surrey were Far Right and Anti-Fracking activities rather than religion. I have not received any update on this position”.

The email added that “illegal action taken by anti-fracking groups as just one of the examples” in the video of how “extremism may lead to harmful or illegal activities involving violence, discrimination or terrorism”.

The student challenged this, pointing out that anti-fracking protests are non-violent and although they might sometimes involve arrests for obstruction, breaking the law to prevent a greater injustice like the emerging climate emergency – or in the case of the suffragettes, to secure the right of women to vote – was sometimes necessary. Surrey county council was asked to remove the section of the video that implied peaceful protestors are extremists.

The safeguarding officer insisted that “at the time of making the video, illegal activity by anti-fracking extremists in Surrey was a particular cause for concern to the police”.

Unfortunately, Surrey Adult Learning then doubled down on the claim that any protest, no matter how peaceful, was “extremist”.

In a further email, its safeguarding officer claimed “protest activity which is legal is not a breach of British values” but that the video “highlighting the difference between this and unlawful action taken by extremists”. The safeguarding officer insisted that “at the time of making the video, illegal activity by anti-fracking extremists in Surrey was a particular cause for concern to the police”.

In December 2016, the Home Office was forced to issue a statement saying “support for anti-fracking is not an indicator of vulnerability” to extremism, after press coverage about City of York Council and a school in North Yorkshire including anti-fracking campaigns in their counter-terrorism advice.

In September 2017, however, ‘Counter-Terrorism Local Profiles’ developed under the government’s Prevent strategy were released and one (see below) showed that Surrey Police had continued to identify “community tensions related to onshore oil and gas operations” as a priority for counter-terrorism officers in East Surrey. 

It is now evident that Surrey Police was still maintaining anti-fracking campaigners are alleged extremists earlier this year when the video shown by Surrey Adult Learning was produced.

Neither is this isolated to Surrey. In 2018, Spinwatch published research showing that forces from Derbyshire, the West Midlands and the City of London had all identified anti-fracking as a perceived “extremist” risk long after the reassurances offered by the Home Office.

We now know that following years of pressure, central government has abandoned the use of the “domestic extremism” categorisation, even if the police appear to continue to use a label that has been described as “manifestly deficient”.

As we highlighted in May 2018, there is no evidence whatsoever of any link between anti-fracking campaigns and extremism, never mind a risk of “terrorism-related activity”.

There is simply no reason for counter-terrorism officers to view anti-fracking protests as a priority for the government’s Prevent programme and no reason for the police to target protesters for “domestic extremist” surveillance.

Netpol has approached both Surrey County Council and Surrey Police for more details of the video, training materials on “British Values” and any advice given to local authorities by counter-terrorism officers.

UPDATE: 9th OCTOBER 2019

Netpol has been given a statement from Vicki Elcoate, on behalf of Frack Free Surrey :

“It’s deeply disturbing that Surrey County Council is saying that residents who protest against the massive expansion of oil and gas exploration in the county are ‘extremists'”. These are local people who care about the climate, their local environment and democracy and who haven’t had their voices heard. There is nothing “extreme” about that view – protests have involved well-known actors and local and national politicians, as well as regular people who all care passionately about protecting our countryside and water.

There have been very few arrests at oil sites in Surrey. Some people were left for months worried and stressed before charges were dropped after arrests at Brockham. It was Surrey County Council that failed to stop drilling without planning permission at Brockham. They’ve also just permitted a huge expansion of oil drilling at Horse Hill despite declaring a Climate Emergency.

That’s the real threat – not listening to what local residents are telling them about the harm to our environment this expansion will cause”.

For more information on our campaign to end the smearing campaigners as “domestic extremists”, click here.

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