Lancashire anti-fracking campaigners are understandably frustrated and angry at aggressive policing
Yesterday’s well-attended “silent” vigil outside of Kirkham Police Station was not quite as reticent or restrained as some may have expected, but with the benefit of hindsight, this is entirely understandable. Anti-fracking campaigners in Lancashire are frustrated and angry: indignant at the way their rights to protest have been trampled on, offended by the aggression and outright violence they have experienced at the hands of the police and exasperated at the failure of senior officers, the media and policymakers to listen to their concerns. No wonder most found it impossible to remain silent.
Superintendent Richard Robertshaw, who has tactical responsibility for the policing operation at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site, made little attempt yesterday to try and defuse growing tensions between the police and protesters. He appeared to go out of his way to feign ignorance about the reasons for people’s resentment at aggressive policing and the issues that had led to the calling the vigil.
Instead, he chose to highlight and condemn “the aggressive behaviour of some of the protesters” gathered for the vigil, which he said “shows the challenges we face in dealing with people who are quite aggressive and and quite forceful in how they want to express their views” and was, he said, “very regrettable”. Read more
Anti-fracking vigil to call on Lancashire Police to “Stop Trampling on Our Freedom to Protest”
On Wednesday 17 May, Lancashire anti-fracking campaigners plan to hold a silent vigil at Kirkham Police Station in protest against the increasingly aggressive policing operation at the nearby Preston New Road fracking site and the way the right to protest has been repeatedly trampled on.
Campaigners will hand in an open letter, signed by over 300 local people, calling on the incoming Chief Constable, Andy Rhodes, to take part in an open public meeting to listen to concerns and answer questions about Lancashire Police’s strategy at the site.
The vigil is part of the “Swap Work for Work“ protest day organised by campaigners at the Preston New Road site.
They are supported by the Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol), a national human rights organisation that has monitored the policing of anti-fracking protests since 2014 and has been increasingly alarmed by Lancashire Police’s failure to learn from previous opposition to fracking in other parts of the country. In particular, Netpol is concerned about often extremely aggressive behaviour by officers, the way protesters are pushed into the path of busy traffic with a lack of care for their safety and arbitrary decisions about arrests.
Kevin Blowe, the coordinator for Netpol, said:
“Concerns have been raised about the financial costs of policing the protests at Preston New Road but little thought appears to have been given to the legacy costs of this confrontational style of policing or the long-term impact it is having on relations between Lancashire Police and local people.”
“The timing of escalating aggressive behaviour by police officers, just as the fracking industry and its supporters have called for police to ‘crack down on protesters’, has further damaged confidence and trust.”
“In the interests of transparency and accountability, we urge the new Chief Constable to agree to the request to participate and answer questions in an open public meeting and call on the Police & Crime Commissioner, Clive Grunshaw, to also attend and take part.”
The vigil takes place between 1pm and 2pm at Kirkham Police Station, Freckleton Street, Kirkham PR4 2SN.
Tonight between 7 pm and 8 pm, Supt Richard Robertshaw, the “silver commander” for the policing operation at the fracking site at Preston New Road in Lancashire, is holding a Facebook Q&A
A silver commander is responsible for tactics: day to day operational decisions are made by the bronze commander. With that in mind, here are 10 questions that others might want to raise with the Superintendent this evening: Read more
Lancashire Police face growing industry pressure to ‘crack down’ on anti-fracking protests
Since we highlighted, at the beginning of March, the increasingly confrontational operation by Lancashire Police against anti-fracking campaigners at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site, more protesters have complained of violence and officers pushing them towards busy traffic.
This escalation in aggressive police tactics has coincided with a campaign of pressure from supporters of the onshore oil and gas industry, conducted mainly through the pages of the Times newspaper, which has called for the police and courts to respond more robustly towards the anti-fracking movement. Read more
Video evidence of an assault on Tuesday by a Lancashire Police officer on a Fylde borough councillor, Roger Lloyd, points to an escalation of more ‘robust’ and aggressive tactics by police against anti-fracking protests at Cuadrilla’s shale gas exploration site near Blackpool.
This is the latest in a series of decisions made by local police that is likely to make it more difficult for protesters to know with any certainty what treatment they are likely to receive and whether police will genuinely protect their right to protest.
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
Launched in 2013, Netpol’s annual “Domestic Extremist Awareness Day” takes place on Monday 6 February. This year, we are calling for a complete end to the meaningless but sinister use of the ‘domestic extremist’ label against all legitimate political dissent.
As we have argued repeatedly over the last couple of years, the term “domestic extremist” means pretty much whatever the police want it to mean.
It is a critical justification for state surveillance on protest movements in the UK, but both the government and the police have struggled to devise a credible definition robust enough to withstand legal scrutiny. As a result, Prime Minister Theresa May’s flagship counter-terrorism and safeguarding bill, announced back in May 2016, is currently floundering precisely because government lawyers have still been unable to codify ‘extremism’ or ‘British values’ in ways that are compatible with fundamental rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. Read more
The Information Commissioner, in rejecting an appeal by Netpol over the refusal of the police to release details of a programme to ‘deradicalise extremists’, has endorsed unfounded and unsubstantiated links between anti-fracking protests and the threat of terrorism.
In October 2015, we asked Cheshire, Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Merseyside police for details of referrals made in the prior ten months through Channel, a ‘counter radicalisation’ process that is part of the government’s anti-terrorism Prevent strategy. Channel supposedly offers voluntary support to people identified as “vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism” and although there are a number of agencies involved in it, the police play a central role in its delivery. Rather than overall statistics, we asked specifically for the number of individuals seen as allegedly at risk through their involvement in anti-fracking campaigns.
Our requests were the result of concerns raised with us by campaigners from the region who were angered that their opposition to fracking had been used as an excuse to refer them to Channel, in most cases by universities or further education colleges. All related to an alleged ‘risk’ to adults rather than children.
In a startling determination, the Information Commissioner has said:
Channel may be appropriate for anyone who is vulnerable to being drawn into any form of terrorism… It follows from this that, for a referral to be made to Channel, it must be suspected that an individual is at risk of becoming involved in terrorist related activity.
In effect, the Commissioner is insisting nobody is referred unless there is a good reason for doing so – even if this is for nothing more than expressing legitimate political opinions about fracking. Read more
Netpol has published a new report, ‘Protecting the Protectors: Monitoring the Policing of Anti-Fracking Protests since 2014’, which summarises our activities, findings and analysis of the policing of protests against fracking since 2014.
Drawing extensively on discussions with anti-fracking campaigners, as well as our own observations at prospective fracking sites, the report covers our
- •Engagement with – and development of resources for – anti-fracking campaigners
- Concerns with the policing of anti-fracking demonstrations and camps
- The intrusive surveillance of anti-fracking campaigners; and
- The opaque relationship between the police and the fracking industry .
We have argued that the way policing operations are planned for anti-fracking protests, the scale of intrusive surveillance against campaigners and ‘zero tolerance’ attitudes towards civil disobedience has a cumulative ‘chilling effect’ on freedoms of assembly and expression:
When coupled with an unfounded association with serious criminality and ‘extremism’ and an unwillingness by police to accommodate protests without routinely making arrests, this can start to quickly chip away at campaign groups’ support and participation and have a disruptive impact on their effectiveness and activities.
With the imminence of new test drilling and exploration sites around the country, the report also outlines the next phase of our campaigning work between now and September 2018.
Your can download a copy of the report here [, 1.2 Mb]
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