UNITED KINGDOM: Climate activists targeted in police crackdown at G7

– Article by Netpol, originally published on 16 June 2021, available here.

During the G7 summit last weekend, officers from Devon & Cornwall Police arrested 29 members of the animal rights and climate emergency group Animal Rebellion, in what looked like the deliberate targeting of anyone associated with them for harassment, searches, and arrests.

The largest number of arrests were last Saturday when, in an apparently surveillance-focused operation, police officers raided Animal Rebellion’s campsite on private farm land near Hayle.

Police confusion about right to protest

Before the summit, which took place in Cornwall from 11 – 13 June, Netpol warned that senior officers planning an intensive policing operation and seemed confused about their duty to protect the right to protest. Police officers from all over the country gathered in Cornwall and 6,500 officers were deployed over the weekend.

In a local press interview, Inspector Nathan Johnson of Devon & Cornwall Police had talked about focusing policing on “the very small minority who are very keen to gum up or disrupt this event”, adding that he wanted “to allow people to peaceful protest and actually sometimes those who are trying to disrupt the event stop that peaceful protest.”

There is no legal basis for arguing that any protest that is disruptive is not “peaceful” and the implication that disruption (other than disruption from the police) is a factor in stopping protests is entirely false.

As Netpol’s Charter for Freedom of Assembly Rights makes clear, “potential disruption is not an automatic excuse for denying protection for assemblies” and neither is “the use of civil disobedience and direct action tactics”. The Charter is a human-rights approach to the way freedom of assembly is policed that we are calling on police chiefs to adopt – or explain why they refuse to.

Dramatic police raid

In a rare moment of self-reflection, Inspector Johnson also said the summit would see his force balancing the right to protest with the rights of businesses “and not always getting it right”. In the case of his officers’ dramatic police raid, the fifteen people who were initially arrested were not even protesting – they had instead remained at the campsite and chosen not to take part a nearby peaceful protest by Animal Rebellion that occupied public seating at a McDonalds restaurant in order to eat vegan food.

Some of those arrested were older people, one was the owner of the farmland the camp was situated on, and others were packing up to go home to their children. A further seven others were detained when they drove back to the camp, bringing the arrest total to twenty-two. One person was so distressed by the raid that they had to be hospitalised with a serious panic attack.

Officers who descended on the camp had warrants to search for “paint, scaffolding poles, super glue and smoke grenades” and other items which could be “used to cause a public nuisance”. However, they found little resembling the kind of direct action equipment that officers had enthusiastically demonstrated to the local press before the summit.

Instead, police seized everyone’s laptops, phones, cameras and tablets, confiscating over 100 items and personal belongings, including tens of thousands of pounds worth of working equipment belonging to the farm owners. These items seem to indicate they were taken more for their intelligence-gathering value than for evidence of any conspiracy, with equipment needed for work confiscated as a punishment tactic.

“Very small minority”

It does appear that before the start of the summit, Devon & Cornwall Police had picked out Animal Rebellion, who had the smallest of the weekend’s three protest campsites, as the “very small minority” that it had decided to target as an alleged threat.

On Thursday 10 June, police stopped, searched, and then seized two vehicles belonging to Animal Rebellion activists. Everyone in the vehicles was arrested and then charged with conspiracy to commit criminal damage after police found an air horn, a smoke flare and paint in one of the vehicles. They were not on their way to a protest at the time of the stop, but driving down to the beach in swimming costumes to spend a relaxing afternoon before the actions started.

All were bailed away from the entire Cornwall region for 28 days, in a clear attempt to prevent them from taking part in any further demonstrations. Detainees were taken to police stations as far away as Exeter and then released over 100 miles from where their arrest had taken place.

Despite an intense public relations effort to heap praise on police during the G7 summit, campaigners from Animal Rebellion last weekend experienced exactly what their counterparts in Extinction Rebellion experienced in London back in 2019, which we highlighted in our report “Restricting Rebellion“.

They had their rights taken from them not because of anything they had done, but because of the group they are part of. This is not, by any stretch, a human-rights approach to protecting freedom of assembly.

If you were arrested at the G7 protests and need legal support, please contact info@netpol.org and we will put you in touch with defendant support networks.