BY RUTH HAYHURST ON AUGUST 4, 2017
Police officers used force at protests over Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road shale gas site nearly nine times a day on average in the first half of July, according to data from Lancashire Constabulary.
Figures released in response to a Freedom of Information request show that over 19 days starting on 1 July, officers filed 165 “Use of Force” reports which referred to Preston New Road.
Thames Valley recently said its officers submitted 3,001 reports across its entire area during a period of 91 days from April-June 2017. In Cumbria, the equivalent figure was 2,183 and in Cambridgeshire it was 1,234.
“Use of Force” reports have been mandatory since 1 April 2017 and require police to record each time they use force in the course of their duty. Force could include the use of restraint, handcuffing (for both compliant and non-compliant people), batons, Tasers and irritant sprays.
The police monitoring group, Netpol, which requested the Preston New Road data, urged Lancashire Police to rethink its strategy at the protests before it “became a national issue”.
DrillOrDrop invited Lancashire Police and Cuadrilla to respond to the data. This post will be updated with any comment.
One report of injuries
According to the Preston New Road data, there were no records of the use of irritant spray or Tasers from 1-19 July. But there were two reports of batons being drawn and/or used.
The data also showed there was one record of a person receiving injuries as a result of an officer’s force during the period 1-19 July 2017.
There appear to be no records of injuries sustained by protesters at Preston New Road. But people who have attended the protests regularly since they began in January 2017 have talked about being dragged by police and being “covered in bruises”.
In May, more than 300 people signed a letter to Lancashire’s Chief Constable which complained of police officers behaving “extremely aggressively towards protesters” and an “increasing zero-tolerance attitude to protests”. DrillOrDrop report
The letter added:
“People have been pushed to the ground and injured or shoved towards the path of busy traffic, with a fundamental lack of care for their safety and the risk or serious or fatal injury.”
At the time, Superintendent Richard Robertshaw, of Lancashire Police, said:
“There are a vast amount of protesters who go about protesting in a peaceful and appropriate way”.
He said “a small minority” were “very aggressive.”
Supt Robertshaw said of his officers:
“They know they’ve got a job to do. They know there are strong feelings. But they will also try to use the absolute minimum amount of force.”
Rolling resistanceThe period of the Preston New Road data coincided with the first half of the so-called Rolling Resistance direct action at the site, coordinated by the national campaign group, Reclaim the Power.
That saw at least six weekday protests where anti-fracking campaigners locked themselves together or to objects outside the shale gas site. There were also two blockades of the gates.
Lancashire Police have yet to release data for arrests for July but Reclaim the Power said there had been more than 70 during the whole month.
Kevin Blowe, of Netpol, said:
“In May, the senior officer in charge of the policing operation at Preston New Road said protesters were disruptive but not violent. In no way did this change with the start of Reclaim the Power’s month of support for local campaigners in July.
“The snapshot of use-of-force data that our Freedom of Information request has provided reinforces the many complaints of aggressive and confrontational policing that we have documented and local people have tried unsuccessfully to raise with the Chief Constable. As well as confirming the use of batons against nonviolent protests, it points to an average of nine incidents per day when force was used.
“There seems little doubt now that protecting the right to freedom of assembly is low on Lancashire Police’s list of priorities. We urge the Chief Constable to rethink his strategy before the excessive use of force at Preston New Road becomes a national issue.”