Back in February this year, as anti-fracking campaigners and the media focussed on the Tactical Aid Unit's over-aggressive policing at the IGas exploratory drilling site at Barton Moss, Greater Manchester Police Chief Constable, Peter Fahy, issued a public statement designed to allay public fears…
"For all the hundreds of hours of policing we have received only 21 complaints, five of which are from the same person" he stated "We take this seriously and will investigate any complaints thoroughly."
However, new Freedom of Information details of the complaints received by GMP at the time show that there were over double the number Fahy cited.
The Chief Constable's statement that "only 21 complaints" were received, was issued on 7th February – yet the FOI information shows fifty complaints made before that date – and a total of 77 complaints from the end of November 2013 to 11th March 2014.
Complaints range from `aggressive behaviour' to `unnecessary force', to `abusive language', `insulting behaviour', `improper treatment', and `denied legal advice'.
The discrepancy in the figures could be something to do with complaints not being recorded within the required time. An internal Greater Manchester Police Commissioner report shows that in the quarter from December 2013 to April 2014, only 62% of complaints against GMP were recorded within ten days – the lowest of any northern police force cited.
The report notes "The decline this quarter in GMP's usually strong performance in this area has been due to a combination of staff resilience and an increased workload due to the impact of Operation Geraldton which relates to the policing of the fracking protest at Barton Moss which has resulted in 47 recorded complaints and over 280 of other pieces of correspondence requiring assessment since 1st January 2014."
The picture this report paints seems a far cry from Peter Fahy's dismissal of public concern centred on the policing of the Salford anti-fracking protests.
"This significant amount of complaints about Greater Manchester Police conduct at Barton Moss is truly shocking" says Simon Pook, solicitor at Robert Lizar's which is handling the majority of court cases against Barton Moss protectors.
"It provides the public with a glimpse of the model of policing used at Barton Moss" he explains "I continue to gather evidence for my report to the United Nations about the use and role of Police Liaison Officers and the overt aggressive policing, and the use of potentially non-standard emblems on police uniforms*
"It should be no surprise that Gold Command of the police are basing their training on Anti Fracking Camps" he adds "The public must seek reassurances from the police that the style of policing at Barton Moss will not be seen again."
Meanwhile, following GMP arrests at Barton Moss, the vast majority of cases continue to be dropped, dismissed or the protectors acquitted when cases come to court.
Yesterday at Manchester Magistrates Court, two protectors were acquitted on charges relating to the lorry lock-on at Barton Moss Road on January 13th, a protest against Prime Minister David Cameron's announcement that local councils would be `bribed' with £100,000 if they accepted fracking (see previous Salford Star article – click here). Two others were charged £85 costs and given six months conditional discharges. Campaigners outside the court hailed it as a `legendary victory', while a placard was held stating `Smile, we're going to win!'
Update: 5:30pm 29th July
A Salford Star reader has seen this article and been in touch with a Freedom of Information request to GMP he had answered in April. He asked for the `Number of complaints submitted to GMP in relation to policing at Barton Moss/Barton Moss Road'. The Greater Manchester Police response? "There have been 39 complaints recorded in relation to the Barton Moss protests."
* the `potentially non-standard emblem' relates to photos taken of the Tactical Aid Unit in Manchester last weekend (see photo)
See also previous related Salford Star articles
* Call for Public Inquiry into Policing at Barton Moss - click here
* Salford Residents' Shock at Barton Moss Policing - click here
* Barton Moss Solicitor Calls in United Nations as GMP Brutality Intensifies - click here
Main photo by Climate James.