A new report formally launched at the House of Lords on Wednesday of last week exposes the police treatment of anti-fracking protesters.
Researched by academics from York and Liverpool John Moores universities, it looks at the policing of the Barton Moss Community Protection Camp in Eccles near Manchester. From November 2013 to April 2014 protesters camped out in opposition to IGas plans for fracking.
Dr Joanna Gilmore is one of the researchers behind the report. She told Socialist Worker, “The purpose is really to give a view from below.
“We were concerned at the growing body of academic research being done in partnership with the police. We were very clear we wanted this to be completely independent of the police. It’s rooted in the experience of the protesters.”
In meticulous detail the researchers look at what the police said and what they did at different points in the operation. Police statements consistently tried to smear protesters—at the same time as carrying out violent arrests.
Some of the incidents described are shocking. Joanna said, “One thing we didn’t really anticipate is how much the people we interviewed described how women experienced sexualised violence from the police.
“One woman said she was groped, another said an officer put his hand up her skirt. Other people talked about police making sexist comments. It seemed to protesters that this was something quite systemic, that it was part of a strategy.”
Arrest patterns also raise questions about the police strategy. Joanna said, “We saw mass arrests. Police at the time justified this massive operation saying people were arrested for violent offences. But most of those arrested were for non-violent offences.”
Blanket bail conditions prevented many of those arrested from returning to the camp in the meantime.
Joanna said, “Around two thirds of those arrested either had their cases dropped or were found not guilty by courts. It raises questions as to whether the police were using arrest powers to restrict protests—rather than how they are supposed to be used, which is to facilitate prosecutions.”
There were also concerted attempts to smear protesters—and mainstream media largely reflected the police view.
The report ends on a more positive note, showing protesters’ collective response—including launching a defence campaign and working with local alternative media. This helped prevent miscarriages of justice and hold police to account.
The report calls for a number of measures including a public inquiry.
The policing of Barton Moss stands in a history of repression.
“If you look at how the suffragettes or the women of Greenham Common were treated, the experience of women at Barton Moss was nothing new,” Joanna said. “We’ve seen this kind of mass arrests with the Bradford riots or the protests over Gaza.
“But people who’d taken part in other anti-fracking protests at Balcombe in Sussex said Barton Moss was being much more aggressively policed. It seems to have been a testing ground for taking on anti-fracking protesters, a group police have identified as ‘domestic extremists’.”