Frack Free Greater Manchester welcome the report by the Independent Panel on Policing and Protests, produced for the Police and Crime Commissioner of Greater Manchester, on Barton Moss anti-fracking protest, which will be published on Thursday 16 October. (1)
The report correctly identifies the significance of ‘flaregate’; the allegation that protesters deliberately tried to shoot down a Greater Manchester Police helicopter, for which no evidence has been produced. FFGM belives this matter should immediately be referrred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission and supports the call for a full independent enquiry into the policing of the protest.
FFGM believes though that the report fails to properly answer our five key questions on the policing of the protest (2)
- Did the police have daily arrest quotas?
- Did the police know Barton Moss Road was a private road?
- Was covert intelligence shared with IGas?
- Did the police wage a propaganda war against the protesters?
- Was the story of the flare fired at the police helicopter invented?
In the report the police deny having arrest quotas, however FFGM notes that exactly five people were arrested on most days and that officers were heard calling for “one more” or “two more” arrests on several occasions.
The report does not comment on the charges used to arrest protesters, but the courts have acquitted all Protectors arrested for Obstruction of the Public Highway and have been incredulous that police officers were not aware the road was private.
The report also notes that the police became the only agency making public statements on the protest only by default. However FFGM still believes that police statements went far beyond what was acceptable. One statement (on the GMP Facebook site on 23 January 2014) stated that the “majority of people who are arriving at the site are not there to protest against fracking but are there to disrupt and intimidate the local community and to antagonise police”. The Independent Panel clearly states this was not true.
However the most serious question is over ‘flaregate’. The report also correctly notes a hardening of police attitudes towards anti-fracking campaigners in the aftermath of the incident. The report correctly notes that no evidence has been produced to substantiate the police claims; the cameras on the helicopter did not record the incident, neither did cameras at the airport, at Barton Moss Secure Centre, at the IGas site or on the M62. No witnesses have been produced other than the pilot of the helicopter who has not been named, and who’s statement has not been made public.
FFGM believes that Greater Manchester Police should immediately refer ‘flaregate’ to the IPCC and supports the Justice 4 Barton Moss campaign’s call for a judge-led public enquiry. More than 5000 people have signed their petition (3).
The report recommended greater liaison between the police and the Protectors. This was a role FFGM tried to play during the protests, but the police refused to meet with us.
The report mentions an incident in which a police officer suffered a minor injury whilst dealing with a ‘lock-on’. Frack Free Greater Manchester made a statement at the time regretting this incident and calling for people coming to Barton Moss to take care to ensure the safety of the police and the public when protesting.(4)
Martin Porter of Frack Free Greater Manchester said “We thank the panel for their work, but the report shows just how many important questions remain unanswered. Despite feelings against the police running very high, despite the excessive force used on the daily ‘slow walks’ and despite the police treating everyone who turned up like a criminal, this was a peaceful protest. For Greater Manchester Police to then claim that these peaceful protesters launched a terrorist attack is totally unacceptable. We must find out the truth of this matter. If this story was made up to discredit peaceful protesters and justify repressive policing, then there must be consequences.”