From Comment

“Something has to change” – new Netpol report calls for immediate review of policing of fracking protests

PHOTO: Netpol

New report calls for “comprehensive review of national policy” on the policing of opposition to the onshore oil and gas industry

Outside shale gas company Cuadrilla’s site on Preston New Road near Blackpool, Netpol is today launching its new report, ‘Protecting the Planet is Not a Crime’, which documents our many concerns about the way the police have responded to opposition to fracking at sites around England.

Much of the report focuses on protests in Lancashire, where there have been over 300 arrests since January. Throughout 2017, Netpol has heard testimony from campaigners and seen 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.

We had also heard about the targeting of disabled protesters (including repeatedly tipping a wheelchair user from his chair) and officers using painful pressure point restraint techniques. Campaigners have repeatedly accused Lancashire police of ignoring violent and unlawful actions by private security employed by Cuadrilla.

However, during a visit last week to Kirby Misperton in north Yorkshire, where protests only began on 19 September, Netpol spoke to campaigners who are already echoing many of the same complaints made by their counterparts in Lancashire. Read more

Review: The End of Policing

‘The End of Policing’ by Alex S Vitale, published by Verso, October 2017

During the 2017 UK general election, the Police Federation ran an extremely successful campaign, eventually taken up for different motivations by both the Labour Party’s left-wing leadership and the right-wing press, arguing a direct link between falling police numbers and rising levels of crime.

Since then, only Rebecca Roberts from the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies (CCJS) has been able to offer any challenge to this idea within the mainstream media. Police numbers have undoubtedly reduced since 2010 but still remain at historically high levels after years of growth. Nevertheless, this explanation for an increase in some types of crime has become an accepted truth: questioning the need for more police officers is seen as straying far outside the Overton window of political acceptability.

‘The End of Policing’, a new book by Brooklyn associate professor Alex S Vitale, goes much further, however, by posing questions that seem almost unthinkable in the US (its main focus) or here in the UK.

What if we really need significantly fewer police officers and more attention to alternatives that are less coercive? What if the police are wholly unsuited to solving many of the problems the state asks them to deal with? Read more

UN human rights report warns against “closing of space for civil society’ in the UK

Former United Nations Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai: PHOTO: UN

In the final stages of this month’s general election, Prime Minister Theresa May attempted to bolster her increasingly fragile position with another attack on human rights laws, a move that was rightly condemned by national and international human rights groups.

With coinsiderably less publicity, however, a United Nations report on human rights in the UK, published in May, provided a reminder that legislation, on its own, does not protect our fundamental rights.  People acting together to protect these rights are just as important. Read more

Wave of impunity carries Cressida Dick into Commissioner’s job

Jean Charles de Menezes’ relatives march alongside other custody death families in Whitehall, October 2006. PHOTO: Kevin Blowe

The word “impunity” – exemption from any possibility of punishment or harm – comes up again and again when bereaved families talk about the death of a loved one at the hands of the police. The family of Jean Charles de Menezes used it again in a statement yesterday.

It is little wonder, when charges against officers are so rare, when investigations take so long and when efforts to discover the truth are so vigorously contested, that many start to believe the police – uniquely in society – are immune from prosecution following a death in their care.

Often it seems all families are allowed to hope for is a vague promise to “learn the lessons from the tragedy” and the possibility that senior officers feel at least some sense of shame for the loss of life on their watch. But justice? That is apparently asking for too much.

The announcement of the appointment of Cressida Dick as the next Metropolitan Police Commissioner must feel particularly painful for the Menezes family. Ms. Dick was the senior officer in charge of the botched operation that led to the execution of the Brazilian commuter by firearms officers at Stockwell underground station in London in the summer of 2005.

The Metropolitan Police then lied about the circumstances of Jean’s death and during subsequent investigations vital evidence went missing, including Cressida Dick’s instructions to allow Jean into the station because he did not appear a threat. In 2007, the Met was eventually found guilty of breaking health and safety laws and endangering the lives of Londoners and a year later, an inquest jury decided that a series of police failures contributed to Jean’s death. No individual officers were ever charged or disciplined. Read more

Large or Small, Why Protests Still Matter

A police officer at the Women’s March on London, January 2017. PHOTO: Bruno Mameli / Shutterstock.

Feedback from supporters who took part in last week’s Domestic Extremism Awareness Day was very clear – people believe strongly that the freedom to protest remains valuable and important and deserves protection from efforts by the state to undermine and disrupt its effectiveness.

Campaigners resent the smearing of their activism as ‘extremism’, not only because this label is evidently so easy to apply without the slightest evidence, but because it seems deliberately intended to drive away wider public support. Read more

How transparent is the policing of anti-fracking protests?

Anti-fracking protest march in Malton, North Yorkshire

Anti-fracking protest march in Malton, North Yorkshire. PHOTO: Paul Rookes / Shutterstock.com

The interests of energy companies are widely perceived as taking priority over the rights of protesters.

Nearly a year after we first raised concerns about new guidelines on the policing of anti-fracking protests, we have finally had some answers to questions we raised with the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC).

In the last of four posts, we examine what the NPCC’s response tells us about the level of transparency of policing operations involving anti-fracking protests.  Read more

Is dialogue with Police Liaison Officers really ‘voluntary’?

Police Liaison Officers at the March against Austerity in June 2014. PHOTO: Netpol

A cluster of Police Liaison Officers at the March against Austerity in June 2014. PHOTO: Netpol

Nearly a year after we first raised concerns about new guidelines on the policing of anti-fracking protests, we have finally had some answers to questions we raised with the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC).

In the third of four posts, we look at police attitudes to the use of ‘dialogue’ and ‘liaison’ and whether senior officers have a different understanding from protesters about what these words really mean. Earlier posts cover intelligence-gathering operations and body-worn cameras at anti-fracking protests. Read more

Police chiefs reject body-worn video camera privacy concerns

Body-worn video cameras privacy

Body-worn video cameras on police officers in Nottinghamshire. PHOTO: Netpol

Police chiefs show extraordinary lack of interest in privacy issues

Nearly a year after Netpol first raised concerns about new guidelines on the policing of anti-fracking protests, we have finally received some answers to questions we raised with the National Police Chiefs Council.

In the second of four posts, we look at the police’s attitude to the use of body-worn cameras and the implications for protesters’ individual privacy.

In Netpol’s briefing to the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) last year we raised, within wider concerns about the level of intensive and sustained surveillance targeted at anti-fracking protesters, the particular issues of photography and police body-worn video (BWV).

The NPCC guidance makes it clear that police will use live video sources, including video cameras worn by individual officers, supplemented by social media sources. Read more

Police refuse to rule out using undercover officers at anti-fracking protests

PHOTO: Frack Free Greater Manchester

PHOTO: Frack Free Greater Manchester

National Police Chiefs Council insists using controversial covert undercover tactics is a matter for local police commanders

In July 2015, the National Police Chiefs Council published new guidance on operations targeting anti-fracking protests. In response, Netpol produced a detailed briefing raising eighteen questions about the scale and tactics of policing operations and the necessity of undertaking significant intelligence-gathering targeting opponents of fracking. Now, nearly a year on, we have finally received a reply from Norfolk Assistant Chief Constable (ACC) Sarah Hamlin, of the NPCC’s National Protest Working Group.

In the first of four posts examining what her answers tell us about police attitudes to the policing of protest, we look at intelligence-gathering and the labelling of protesters as ‘extremists’. Read more

Hunt supporters seek change in law undermining right to wear face coverings

Hunt saboteurs following the Puckeridge Hunt in Ashdon, Essex, january 2016. PHOTO Cambridge Hunt Sabs

Hunt saboteurs following the Puckeridge Hunt, January 2016. PHOTO: Cambridge Hunt Sabs

When the Countryside Alliance’s advisor on policing, retired Dyfed Powys chief inspector Phillip Davies, addressed the recent National Police Chiefs Council conference in Derby, also attended by Netpol, he was keen to portray opponents of hunting as violent ‘extremists’ and complained bitterly about the lack of police action against them. In reality, however, it is often activists monitoring breaches of the Hunting Act 2004 who are themselves under attack by hunt supporters. Read more