Netpol receives new two-year funding from October 2016
We are delighted to announce that Netpol has secured additional funding from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Ltd to address the pressing need to change the way the police continue to respond to anti-fracking protests.
From October 2016, our ‘Protecting the Anti-Fracking Protectors’ campaign will seek:
- a political consensus locally and nationally that policing operations at future protests are genuinely less aggressive in their size and tactics and more transparent in their dealings with industry and the media.
- Lobby Police & Crime Commissioners to publish their expectations of policing strategies towards anti-fracking protests and to effectively scrutinise the human rights compliance of policing operations in their areas.
- an end to intensive surveillance and intelligence-gathering against anti-fracking protesters.
- greater awareness among first time anti-fracking campaigners about their fundamental legal rights,
Alongside our lobbying work, we intend to develop new tools to illustrate how campaigners can most effectively assert their rights to assembly and freedom of expression. We are also setting up a ‘whistle-blowing’ website offering individual campaigners who feel they are unfairly targeted the reassurance they can share information with us securely (including, for example, on inappropriate referrals to the government’s ‘Prevent’ anti-radicalisation programme or evidence of the unfair labelling of activists as ‘extremists’).
Since we began working with the anti-fracking movement in 2014, Netpol has uncovered significant evidence of close ties between police forces and the onshore oil and gas industry and shown how public order training for senior police officers is focused specifically on anti-fracking protest, which undermine attempts by police to portray themselves as ‘neutral’.
In a judgment received today, a tribunal has ruled in favour of Netpol and said that the police cannot rely on safeguarding national security as a reason for refusing to release any information on how often opponents of fracking are referred to a secretive ‘de-radicalisation’ programme controlled by counter-terrorism officers. Read more
Injunctions are scary sounding things, but that’s exactly what they’re meant to be. Fear, rather than actual prosecutions, is the primary means by which injunction orders succeed in shutting down protest. And you can understand why: if a court finds you guilty of breaking an injunction order, you’ll be held in contempt of court which, as Tommy Robinson has just discovered, can result in a custodial sentence.
Companies and public institutions that take out an injunction against campaigners typically rely on people’s rational fear of such punishment to dissuade them from continuing to voice their opposition to their activities.
But the truth is that despite numerous breaches of the injunctions at sites such as Leith Hill over the last 18 months, there has been neither an attempted nor successful prosecution of an anti-fracking campaigner for contempt of court.
In this context, it is worthwhile doing a little bit of myth-busting around the injunctions currently being used by fracking companies. Read more
Yet another interim injunction has been granted to the fracking industry, this time at a hearing in Manchester last week that sought to prohibit a range of disruptive protest tactics at Cuadrilla’s site at Preston New Road in Lancashire.
Once again, this represents an alarming threat to fundamental rights to freedom of assembly – and it is further evidence that the onshore oil and gas industry is turning more and more to the civil courts to defend its interests. Read more
Home Office insists secretive Prevent programme “cannot in any circumstances be considered frightening”
Imagine feeling you have to tell your children to avoid talking about fracking at school, in case it is seen as a safeguarding concern. Or experiencing a knock at your door from counter-terrorism police because your child has been involved in protests against fracking. Or officers visiting your home because you have simply been reporting on these protests.
Imagine staying silent in a Prevent training event when, surrounded by your work colleagues, a police officer mentions opposition to fracking as a potential risk factor for”domestic extremism” and asks if anyone has been involved in anti-fracking campaigns.
Imagine your local council has secretly labelled your campaign as having the “potential for community tension”. Or discovering your college has referred you to a programme designed to “identify and provide support to individuals who are at risk of being drawn into terrorism”.
Most people would find any of these situations terrifying and all have been experienced by campaigners against fracking in the UK.
However, as five separate police forces in the north west of England continue to refuse to say whether or not they are referring anti-fracking campaigners to a controversial Prevent counter-terrorism programme, the Home Office has brushed aside concerns about how individuals might feel about sudden accusations of association with extremism.
It insists this “cannot in any circumstances be considered frightening”.
The way the police persistently label opposition to fracking as “extremism” infuriates campaigners up and down the country.
The National Police Chiefs Council NPCC), which represents senior police officers in the UK, will shortly consult on how local forces should in future plan policing operations in response to protests against fracking – one of the most contentious public order issues of the last five years.
When the consultation, which Netpol has pushed hard for, is finally launched in the coming weeks, one issue it cannot ignore is the persistent labelling of the anti-fracking movement as “domestic extremists”.
In December 2016, the Home Office was finally 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. Smearing campaigners in this way had not, however, simply appeared out of thin air: it has been part of the constant messaging promoted by counter-terrorism policing units from around the country for many years.
As far back as February 2013, before the site licensed by shale gas company Cuadrilla at Balcombe in West Sussex became the focus of national attention, the county council’s planning committee had been told by Sussex Police about an alleged threat to Celtique Energie’s exploratory drilling site at Broadford Bridge. [, 3 Mb]
At this stage, counter-terrorism officers in Sussex were still obsessively searching for “extremists” within anti-austerity campaigns in order to add their details to secret police databases, but as the movement against fracking began to grow rapidly, it too was increasingly targeted for surveillance. In November 2013, a Cambridgeshire Police officer was caught on camera trying to recruit a student to inform about a number of groups, including anti-fracking demonstrators.
In 2014, a poorly redacted external review of the extremely violent policing operation over almost 70 days of protests against the drill site at Balcombe the previous summer highlighted the development of a UK-wide policing strategy and recommended that “lessons learnt” should be “fed into the emerging national coordination on fracking”. Its emphasis on expanding the intelligence-gathering role of Police Liaison Officers features prominently in new guidelines for local forces issued in August 2015, which the NPCC is now about to consult upon.
Since then, our work has highlighted the targeting by counter-terrorism officers of a journalist covering anti-fracking protests in Lancashire and of the mother of a young campaigner who took part in protests against shale gas exploration at Crawberry Hill in East Yorkshire.
In 2015, two anti-fracking activists from the north west of England told us they had been referred to the government’s “counter radicalisation” programme, Channel, because of their political opposition to onshore oil and gas extraction. This is now the subject of a three-year legal battle by Netpol against the Information Commissioner to try and obtain statistics about how often such referrals involve anti-fracking campaigners.
At around the same time, we were given an audio recording of a training session that provided concrete evidence that counter-terrorism officers from Merseyside Police were linking anti-fracking protests to “domestic extremism” and making unsubstantiated claims about campaigners who took part in protests in 2014 at Barton Moss in Salford.
This corroborated earlier testimony that police in West Yorkshire told hundreds of teachers to consider environmental activists and anti-fracking protesters, including the Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, as potential extremists.
The newsletter issued by Driffield School in North Yorkshire that told parents that “East Riding’s main priorities are far-right extremism, animal rights and anti-fracking” was issued in June 2016 (it has been removed from their website but is available here [, 398 kB]).
Even after the Home Office backed away in late 2016 from claiming a link between anti-fracking protests and extremism, however, police continued to repeat it.
In September 2017, ‘Counter Terrorism Local Profiles’ developed under the government’s Prevent strategy were released that identified protests at Broadford Bridge in Sussex as a “priority theme… where increased tensions or vulnerabilities may exist”. A similar profile for Surrey highlighted “community tensions related to onshore oil and gas operations” in the east of the county.
The Broadford Bridge protests did not start until April 2017, four months after the Home Office’s statement saying opposition to fracking was not a “vulnerability”.
We know this issue really infuriates campaigners up and down the country. In the course of preparing for our forthcoming legal challenge against the Information Commissioner at the First-tier Information Rights Tribunal, we asked people to tell us how they felt about the police describing their campaigning as “extremism”.
We were inundated with responses describing the cross-section of support the anti-fracking movement has attracted and how divisive and insulting it was for the police to even suggest individuals might become ‘at risk of being drawn into terrorism’.
This is why the National Police Chiefs Council consultation cannot avoid this issue. Characterising participation in legitimate campaigning as “extremism” has been used to justify increasingly intrusive surveillance and these subjective judgments may have directly influenced the way the police have treated protesters, often extremely aggressively, at drilling sites.
It may also have led to the wholly unreasonable deployment of undercover officers for infiltration and disruption of local campaigns, a prospect that the NPCC refused to rule out in 2016 when it said that “any tactic, including covert tactics, is for the policing commander for the operation”.
This issue is fundamental to the breakdown in relations between local campaign groups and the police and no amount of reassurances about improved communication will fix this.
It remains a simple but fundamental fact that 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.
New national police guidance, when it is eventually published, must recognise this if it has any hope of changing the conduct of future policing operations so they genuinely respect people’s rights to freedom of assembly.
Netpol plans to advise and support campaigners on how to ensure their views are heard in the National Police Chiefs Council consultation, once it is launched. Subscribe to our newsletter to stay in touch.
Opponents of Durham opencast mining condemn bailiffs and police over violence at protest camp eviction
Since the start of March, campaigners living at the Pont Valley Protection Camp, between Dipton and Leadgate in County Durham, have been protesting against opencast coal mining by the Banks Group, which has only until 3 June to extract coal from the mine before its planning permission runs out.
The camp was set up after petitions, open letters to the Secretary of State and the discovery of a protected species of great crested newt all failed to stop the mining from going ahead.
Between 19 and 21 April, the camp was evicted by bailiffs and seven campaigners were arrested. They have complained that during the eviction, bailiffs showed little consideration for individuals’ safety and subjected then to continuous abusive and sexist behaviour, which the police who were in attendance took no action against.
Instead, police officers used ‘section 35’ dispersal powers, intended for tackling anti-social behaviour, to disperse witnesses from the area. Read more
After a two-year battle against five police forces and the regulator dealing with freedom of information, Netpol has secured an important victory for greater transparency of the government’s ‘counter-radicalisation’ strategy, Prevent.
After intervening in a legal action brought by Netpol at the Information Rights Tribunal over the refusal by police forces to publish this material, the Home Office has now been forced to concede that continued secrecy is untenable after tens of thousands of people have taken part in the training.
As a result, the Home Office WRAP training materials, along with local versions provided to Netpol by Greater Manchester Police and Merseyside Police, are now public documents and available to download:
Greater Manchester Police – WRAP training slides [ 5 Mb]
A sweeping injunction sought by shale oil and gas company UKOG against campaigners in south-east England looks like it has run into difficulties since it was challenged in court in March
The draft orders, originally made against “persons unknown”, attempted to prohibit a wide range of actions, including “combining together using lawful means” if that was intended to interfere with the company’s “economic interests”. The threat of expensive legal action against local campaigners if they breached such a sweeping order is a potentially significant threat to their rights to oppose and protest against the company’s plans.
A preliminary hearing on 19 March at the High Court in London was adjourned for six weeks, however, after five campaigners came forward to challenge the injunction. This was possible because initial advice from the solicitors’ firm Bhatt Murphy and Stephanie Harrison QC from Garden Court Chambers was paid for by Netpol’s Activist Legal Action Fund. Read more
A discussion on “The End of Policing” in London, March 2018
Alex Vitale, Professor of Sociology and coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College in New York, was in London on 15 March to talk about his book “The End of Policing” with the Executive Director of INQUEST, Deborah Coles, at a sold-out event organised by Netpol and CCJS.
As space was limited and so many people were, therefore, unable to attend, the discussion was filmed (by Gathering Place Films) and is now available online.
This book aims to spark a public debate on the origins and history of modern policing that have shaped it into a tool of coercive social control. Drawing on research from around the world and covering the increasingly broad areas of social issues that have become “law enforcement issues”, it sets out to demonstrate now policing has come to exacerbate the very problems it is supposed to solve.
It shows how the expansion of police authority – and the demand for more and more police officers – is inconsistent with community empowerment, social justice, or even crime reduction.
Netpol reviewed Alex’s book in September 2107 – you can read what we thought of it here.
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. Read more