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
Dispersal powers are discriminatory. anti-democratic, open to abuse and completely unaccountable.
The Network for Police Monitoring has today launched a new campaign to repeal powers under Section 35 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, which extended the police’s ability to dispense individuals from an area for up to 48 hours.
Police officers have been granted even greater levels of discretion about what constitutes ‘reasonable grounds’ to disperse people and it is far too easy for the police to use their new powers in an extremely restrictive way.
Since it was introduced, there is growing evidence that police are misusing these powers against vulnerable and often socially excluded people: teenagers, sex workers. the homeless, particularly in areas with a large black population. Section 35 powers are also increasingly targeting people exercising their democratic right to freedom of protest. These powers are used with absolutely no public oversight.
We believe it is time Section 35 is repealed.
Netpol is asking people to come forward with their own stories so we can build the case for the repeal of Section 35. We have already started to gather case studies where dispersal powers have been misused – and challenged – in a wide range of situations.
You can find out more on the microsite we have set up at repealsection35.org.uk
Cheshire Police have used controversial antisocial behaviour dispersal powers to exclude protesters from a large area around the recently evicted Upton anti-fracking camp near Chester.
At least ten anti-fracking campaigners who supported the Upton Community Protectors Camp, which was was evicted in a massive operation by police and bailiffs on Tuesday, have been excluded from a large area stretching for three miles on the outskirts of Chester. Read more
Back in July 2013, Netpol expressed our concerns about proposals in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill for police powers to disperse people taking part in a lawful assembly and arrest those that did not comply. The passage of the Bill was not without controversy and in January 2014 the House of Lords briefly rejected plans for new anti-social behaviour powers, largely on the basis of how sweeping and subjective they were. However, the bill received its Royal Assent in March 2014 and came into effect in October last year.
The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act does include some safeguards prohibiting its use against authorised trade union pickets or political protest where written notice has been provided under section 11 of the Public Order Act 1986. Inevitably, many lawful political gatherings do not meet these criteria. The Act does also say, however, that a senior officer authorising the use of dispersal powers under section 35 “must have particular regard to the rights of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly set out in articles 10 and 11” of the European Convention of Human Rights.
None of this prevented the use of dispersal powers under section 35 of the new Act against protesters occupying empty flats on the Aylesbury estate in Southwark, where the council has moved out tenants in preparation for ‘regeneration’ that involves demolition of the estate and building 4000 new properties over the next two decades, half “luxury” homes and the remainder supposedly “affordable”. The Southwark protesters are part of a growing protest movement against the housing crisis in London and the transfer of social housing to property developers: they had originally broken away at the end of the March for Homes that took place on 31 January.
New laws being considered by parliament would allow police to disperse people taking part in a lawful assembly and arrest those that did not comply. There is no need for the demonstration to have been disorderly or violent – the only requirement would be that the dispersal was ‘necessary to reduce the likelihood of anti-social behaviour’. Read more