(Protest Justice) Protest Justice was launched in December 2018 in response to anti-fracking protesters facing aggression from a variety of sources such as the police, private security and third-party suppliers, on a daily basis. The impact on the wellbeing of those protesters, and the people who witness others being hurt or abused, can be long-term, both physically and/or emotionally.
When inappropriate behaviour toward protesters is not tackled early in a protest, it becomes entrenched very quickly and seen as ‘normal’. Protesters are invariably peaceful and engage in non-violent direct action; historically, antagonists who “up the anti” are usually the authorities – the people who restore the peace are the protesters. Our observations at a variety of protests confirmed that the imbalance must be addressed as protesters face injustice and they continue to suffer false arrests, assaults, intimidation; the bigger picture we are now documenting is certainly interesting.
In this first report, we focus on the balance of Incident Reports received to date, what they reflect and how we are addressing them.
The reported incidents can be organised in 6 categories; vehicle driven at protesters, violence and aggression – by police, violence and aggression – by security, intimidation, property removed/stolen, and spurious arrests. The percentage of reports in each category can be seen in the figure below.
The content of the categories is outlined and discussed below.
We were alarmed by the frequency of which protesters reported vehicles being used as weapons to intimidate them. This tactic appears to be mainly used by suppliers delivering to a site but there are also reports of some site staff and security engaging in this malpractice. Video and photographic evidence has been gathered to substantiate these reports and it is clear that this dangerous practice is common across the country. 29% of the incidents reported details of lorries, wagons and cars being driven at a variety of speeds at protesters. In one particularly shocking incident video footage shows a protester slow walking an aggregate truck, the driver of the truck then physically pushes the individual along the road with the moving vehicle. What is even more shocking is that police liaison officers (PLOs) were present and witnessed the incident but did not intervene! Surely, this exceeds what would be considered reckless driving and constitutes dangerous driving? The police failing to properly address this imprisonable offence is, in our opinion, nothing less than dereliction of duty.
Whilst it is the individuals who must make their complaints to the Police with regard to these drivers, Protest Justice does not view the behaviour lightly. Where in the world would driving a tonne or more of metal at a human being be considered acceptable or normal? To address these atrocious behaviours, Protest Justice have notified the Transport Managers of the companies involved that incidents have been recorded by us. Where these companies have been identified as having professional memberships, we have notified either the Road Haulage Association or the Freight Transport Association. We are also currently corresponding with the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, who issue companies with their Certificate of Professional Competence and Operators Licence. We will be supplying evidence of intimidatory driving to them in due course.
VIOLENCE, AGGRESSION AND INTIMIDATION
This category is split into two sections – police and security. There is no excuse for the disproportionate behaviour either of these groups demonstrate towards peaceful protesters. However, the demarcation of their jurisdiction is important to recognise. Private security staff have no reason to be outside of the site boundary that they are manning. It is surprising, therefore, that both sections have incidents representing 22% each of the reports received. This is closely followed by protesters reporting being intimidated by them, with the addition of suppliers, at 19%.
The police are regularly observed at protests “handling” people either roughly or unnecessarily. This behaviour has been reported by individuals as being dragged, held, pushed, kicked or kneed in the testicles. It is concerning that the reports of this behaviour, whilst widespread, does seem to throw up repeat collar numbers. This in itself needs to be dissected further to identify patterns of behaviour.
Security staff, it seems, perceive themselves as “protected” by the police in some circumstances and it is reported that their aggressive or intimidatory behaviour escalates when the police are not present. Incidents reported have included security personnel forcibly removing banners and other items from protest sites, assaulting protestors, being verbally abusive and behaving in a way that would antagonise or intimidate protesters. It is also reported that security personnel repeatedly hide their SIA badges or identity by not displaying them correctly. This in itself contravenes the guidelines of the Security Industry Authority (SIA)
Once again, if you have witnessed or experienced, disproportionate behaviour, aggression or violence whilst protesting please contact us.
PROPERTY REMOVAL / THEFT
The removal of opposition from protests gives the authorities an easier path to their goal or objective; it has been reported that at such times personal possessions have been seized and impounded. In some incidents this has led to excessive fees being charged for items to be returned. This raises questions about the legality of such confiscation, the timeliness of the restoration of these items, how possessions are returned and by whom. Furthermore, it raises the question of the purpose of such acts – is it to clear protesters from an area or is it driven by vindictiveness, in the attempt to cause personal hardship and deter people from attending future protests? Our data reflects that property removal / theft from sites and spurious arrests both polled at 4% of the reports received.
Protest Justice has been actively supporting individuals in making their complaints against the authorities and challenging these injustices. In addition we have issued notifications to councillors and MPs regarding the complaints registered. The complaints raised so far represents 29% of the total incident reports we have received to date.
It appears that, from the incident reports submitted so far from a variety of protests across the UK, there are similar patterns of behaviour emerging. It would appear that mistreatment of protesters is considered the right of anyone they oppose. Protest Justice firmly believes that, with the type of incidents initially reported, the front line of protest firmly reflects collusion between industry and authority. Evidence to substantiate such allegations is key and we need you to share your experiences with us to further support the evidence gathered and subsequently take appropriate action. One task we are currently undertaking is to review historical video footage, initially from the anti-fracking community, to identify incidents and contrast protests from different sites. We will report our findings in due course. In the meantime, if you have experienced such an incident and not submitted an incident report to Protest Justice yet, please do so, via Protest Justice’s website, Facebook or in hardcopy.