"The last time I saw this sort of behaviour was in the Miners Strike of the 1980s where we saw identical police tactics being used, pushing at miners, brutalising peaceful protest…I am very, very concerned…" Simon Pook
The IGas exploratory drilling site for coal bed methane and shale gas at Barton Moss is the UK's front line for the battle against fracking. And the Barton Moss Community Protection Camp has been established since last November to not only draw attention to the issues surrounding the controversial process, but also to peacefully protest against it.
The protectors have tried, and succeeded, in physically delaying lorries going to and from the site, using peaceful direct action – which has ranged from locking on to vehicles, to slowly walking the lorries down the public footpath leading up to the site, as is their right.
The only physical hurt the protectors have inflicted on anyone is upon their own bodies, superglue-ing themselves to the IGas entrance gates, attaching themselves to concrete filled drums and basically living outdoors at the Camp during one of the most storm-swept winters on record. For the protectors, the suffering is minimal compared to the suffering of the community and the environment if fracking goes ahead.
However, while the battle over the concept of fracking rages at Barton Moss, unfortunately the treatment of the anti-fracking campaigners by Greater Manchester Police has become just as big a story. The Salford Star has documented numerous arrests by the police at the site and associated allegations of brutality by the Greater Manchester Police riot police, or Tactical Aid Unit (TAU).
Now Simon Pook, of Robert Lizar Solicitors, who is representing 98% of those arrested at Barton Moss, compares the political policing at Barton Moss to that of the Miners Strike of the 1980s…
"The last time I saw this sort of behaviour was in the Miners Strike of the 1980s where we saw identical police tactics being used, pushing at miners, brutalising peaceful protest" he says "I am very, very concerned at the tactics used at Barton Moss.
"I go down there to see my clients and it's my view that these are peaceful protesters" he adds "The videos on YouTube show them going about their business but during the time when they are walking the lorries up Barton Moss Road the only aggression I see in those videos comes from the Tactical Aid Unit of Greater Manchester Police."
Simon Pook draws a distinction between the police officers who attend Barton Moss and the Tactical Aid Unit which takes over the policing…
"What I would term the `community bobby' is the police officers with the helmets and the WPCs who are facilitating the march - but for some reason they are taken off the front line of bringing lorries in and are replaced with the Tactical Aid Unit" he explains "All of a sudden the tactics change. They become very aggressive, they are pushing people, they are kicking people, they are pushing people out of the way, they are manoeuvring old ladies off the walk up the road. So there is a difference between the community policing and the Tactical Aid Unit.
"I've looked at video footage provided to me from the protest dates from 26th November through to 30th January and am very concerned about the level of brutality and tactics used by Greater Manchester Police, mainly the Tactical Aid Unit" he adds "They are kicking protectors in the lower legs; the front and rear of the legs depending on which way they are standing; they are standing on their feet and threatening to arrest them for obstruction of the highway before standing on their feet again
"I've also witnessed an elderly gentleman pushed into a ditch, and the actions of the officer are very similar to that of the officer who pushed Mr Tomlinson [died after being assaulted at G20 protest] in London. I've viewed the footage provided by Kris and again it raises very serious concerns on the actions of the TAU at Barton Moss."
Kris suffered a broken eye socket and multiple injuries as he continued to film during his arrest last month (see here)…
"He's lodging a complaint, and I've also lodged a complaint because when I did attend the hospital to attempt to see my client an officer pushed me in the chest and told me to `Fuck off'" he recalls "The conduct of the officers is coming close to what I would term political policing where the European Human Rights Convention seems to have been discarded in favour of a political preference, which is to push through the fracking industry's agenda."
Meanwhile, Greater Manchester Police has put out a press release which has horrified the protectors, and anyone who has been up to the Barton Moss Camp. The GMP stated: "It now seems 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. We have seen offences of assaults, damage, harassment of residents and workers, a flare fired at the police helicopter and threats to kill..."
…To which the Barton Moss Camp and Frack Free Greater Manchester responded; "The smear campaign and intimidation of the camp has now heightened to levels that many thought was not possible" (see here).
Simon Pook is equally horrified by the GMP media tactics, including the much repeated figure of over one hundred arrests…
"What the police are putting into the public domain does feed into the political agenda and this is why I'm drawing the view that this is political policing" he says "The police seem to be far more interested in a PR campaign to justify their actions than in presenting true and real issues.
"The number of arrests is incredibly misleading because the police failed to say that they are visiting the site and arresting people for breach of bail which appears to give inflated arrest rates and gives the perception of a high degree of criminality, which simply isn't the case" he adds "The police also have a dossier of images of the protectors.
"I have seen this dossier and I've also seen videos on YouTube of inspectors selecting people for arrest" he explains "There was a particular day when five people were selected for arrest. They all happened to be from out of town and a few days later GMP released one of their statements saying the majority were from out of town. The GMP should tell us why they have a dossier of photographs of people and why they are selecting people for arrest which then appear to be for ulterior motives rather than justice.
"I have asked GMP to make sure that my images do not end up in that dossier because anyone who the police take details of, they are terming them to be a protester and I'm actually at the site as a solicitor seeing my clients and being a legal observer."
Indeed, Greater Manchester Police `evidence gatherers' have been taking photos of the Salford Star reporter and photographer, both at the Camp and at Salford Civic Centre last week when we were covering a direct action by protectors. Salford Star has since written to the GMP asking for an explanation and has received no response (see here).
What is incredible is that, with evidence mounting of Greater Manchester Police brutality and `political policing', not a word has been uttered on the subject by either the Greater Manchester Police Commissioner Tony Lloyd, who is based in Salford, or by the Salford City Mayor Ian Stewart, who actually lives in Irlam near the Camp, nor by any Labour councillor at Salford Council.
The only squeak of protest has come from Worsley and Eccles South MP Barbara Keeley, who raised initial questions in the House of Commons about the cost of the police operation and police overkill.
One would assume that these politicians would have plenty to say about the policing of the 1980s Miners Strike which is being compared to Barton Moss by solicitor Simon Pook...
"I think it terms of Mr Lloyd, his silence speaks for itself" he says "I would invite him to make a comment in terms of the police conduct. I would invite him to view the YouTube footage of the Greater Manchester Police Tactical Aid Unit. I would invite him to look at the video of Kris and other arrests, and perhaps give us a public view on it. I think he'll say `I can't possibly speak because the matter is under investigation'."
And Salford Mayor Ian Stewart? "I think the civil dignitaries at Salford have a duty to come out and tell the people of Irlam and Cadishead and those who live around Barton Moss why the police are behaving in this way, they have a public duty to do that" he explains "I'd invite them to look at the videos and give us a view. They should visit the site, get their own experience, talk to the people at the Camp – the community are doing it every day. They should go down and see it for themselves."
Tony Lloyd is asking for people to pay £5 extra on their Council Tax bills to go towards the police, which would include the enormous cost of policing Barton Moss. So how would Simon Pook feel as a resident?
"I'd feel extremely aggrieved" he says "We have between twelve and 18 protectors being policed by ninety plus police officers and numerous vans, numerous evidence gatherers and police liaison officers – yet we have community events with over 1000 people attending and only one police officer."
It's not just residents who might be aggrieved. Magistrates and judges, it seems, are also unhappy with the oppressive bail conditions being requested for those arrested by the police and the amount of strange arrests the police are subsequently making in relation to bail conditions.
"The police are not just trying to get people bailed on condition they don't return to the site but are now extending it to within half a mile of the site" says Simon Pook "The courts have, in my view correctly, said that these bail conditions are unlawful and are not compatible with the European Convention of Human Rights. It denies the protectors the right to freedom of protest, they are just saying `No' and giving unconditional bail, allowing people to return to the camp. The courts have been very clear to the clients we represent that the conditions being put by the police are disproportionate.
"I have seen video of a Tactical Aid Unit police officer being asked `Did you drag them out of the tents?' and the officer says `Yes I did'. And the purpose of that was that they could get them on the road to arrest them for breach of bail. There were six arrested recently on that basis. We've presented the evidence before the courts using the police's own photographs and the courts have drawn the view that the tents are in the farmer's field and therefore the protectors are not committing a breach of bail.
"I wish somebody in the Crown Prosecution Service would speak to the officer leading the Operation Geraldton, as it's called, and say `Look, not one of these breach of bails has been upheld, please instruct your officers not to waste public money, not to bring people before the courts and if they are in breach of bail to have the correct evidence before them'. The courts are very clear that there is no breach of bail and it must stop."
Again, the re-arrests seem to be a political move by the police…
"In my view, the arrest figures are artificially inflated by making arrests that they know will be dismissed by the court the following day" Simon Pook explains "The district judge was extremely unhappy with the Crown Prosecution Service and the police because of these alleged breaches of bail and he made his points known."
On February 12th loads of cases are due to be heard in the courts surrounding arrests that have been made at Barton Moss…
"If we win then everyone who has been arrested for obstructing the highway and possibly for obstructing a police officer will have the charges withdrawn" says Simon "And from that there may well be a substantial civil action against Greater Manchester Police."
In the meantime, the Justice4BartonMoss campaign is being launched tonight, Thursday 6th February, with a Public Meeting at St Michael's Social Club, Liverpool Road, Eccles M30 7LP beginning at 7pm (see Facebook event page - click here).
Organisers state that "This meeting has been called to formally launch the Justice4BartonMoss campaign, established in response to aggressive, intimidating and violent policing by Greater Manchester Police towards anti-fracking campaigners at Barton Moss. So far, 100 campaigners have been arrested and many others have been injured as a result of police actions.
The campaign is supported by the Northern Police Monitoring Project and we invite all those affected and concerned to come together and discuss how we can respond to the ongoing intimidation and criminalisation of anti-fracking campaigners at Barton Moss."
There is also a petition demanding a Public Inquiry into the policing at Barton Moss which the Salford Star is backing (see previous article here)