Excessive and bullying police tactics show how the fracking debate is being lost in the UK

I witnessed a 79-year-old woman being kettled by a dozen officers for making tea. Keith Taylor, Green MEP, reports from Kirby Misperton in Yorkshire.

If there are two things I know about Yorkshire folk, it’s that they love tea and are very partial to the countryside idylls that abound in God’s Own County.

It was with the promise of soaring natural beauty and an abundance of cuppas, then, that I took a break from the Green Party conference in Harrogate, North Yorkshire to visit the tiny village of Kirby Misperton.

The village has the dubious dishonour of being the testing ground for new hydraulic fracturing in the UK. Despite overwhelming opposition, the local community are set to be guinea pigs for a dangerous process that our neighbours in Ireland and Scotland have already seen fit to ban.

The site has attracted both dedicated and tenacious protesters from the surrounding areas and a substantial police presence. Subsequently, concerns about ‘heavy-handed’ and ‘disproportionate’ policing on site have persisted.

Arriving at the site, the first thing that struck me was the sheer scale of the policing operation.

The number of boots on the ground appeared to be almost preposterously disproportionate to the ‘criminal threat’ posed by a group of resolutely peaceful local residents.

On greeting campaigners, I was informed officers had imposed an ‘informal’ injunction – translation: unenforceable in law – against passing any food or clothing to a campaigner who was camping atop the site’s so-called ‘watchtower’.

I decided to challenge the ‘injunction’ by taking a bag filled with supplies and tossing it up to a very grateful campaigner.

I was immediately approached by one of the numerous officers and questioned over my actions. I reckon I would have been arrested, had the campaigners not informed the officer I was a member of the European Parliament.

On what charges, I couldn’t be sure. But looking at the arrests-charges-convictions ratios at other drilling protests it seems officers rarely think that far ahead.

My brush with the law wasn’t the main ‘attraction’ during the visit, however. Instead, it was a seemingly innocent tea and cake stall that proved most contentious.

The stall is run by the very gentle and lovely Jackie Brookes who, at 79-years-old, has decided to express her opposition to fracking in her community in the most Yorkshire way possible – by keeping campaigners, and police officers alike, topped up with tea and cake.

However, on the day of my visit, officers had taken exception to the location of Jackie’s tea stall. And, regardless of the rights and wrongs of the case for moving the stall, what I witnessed next was beyond belief.

Jackie declined a police request to move her stall while she waited for advice on the legal argument for doing so.

Before she could get an answer, though, her stall was stormed by at least 15, by my count, officers who proceeded to kettle the 79-year-old – to a chorus of ‘shame on you’ from fellow campaigners.

The police response was a frighteningly incredible overreaction. It amounted to little more than the bullying and intimidation of visibly shaken grandmother whose only crime was being a ‘radical’ in charge of a teacake.

In the end, the bullying and intimidation worked; Jackie – the dangerous ‘teapot terrorist’ – was terrified into moving away from her stall before the police moved in to dismantle it.

The operation was shocking. To my mind, 15 officers intimidating a 79-year-old ‘tea lady’ is neither an example of fine policing nor a good use of police resources at a time when budgets are being cut across the country.

What I witnessed in Kirby Misperton was not a one-off. Footage from fracking and drilling protests in Derbyshire, Lancashire, and Sussex have shown the intimidation, excessive force, and even violence visited upon peaceful protesters by police and private security forces.

The most recent report from the Network for Police Monitoring revealed that political pressure is being brought to bear on police forces across the UK to act as the ‘legal enforcers’ in a fracking debate the Government is losing.

It is why I have twice, in just the last few months, called on the National Police Chiefs’ Council to urgently review the guidance it produces to constabularies about the policing of fracking and drilling protests.

Like Greens across the country, I know campaigners in North Yorkshire won’t give up the fight to protect their communities, their children’s futures and the beautiful countryside in God’s Own County.

And I have no doubt that once rested and recuperated, Jackie will be back to doing her bit to keep the campaigners going and the cuppas flowing.

Ultimately though, we cannot ignore the fact that the Government’s full-steam-ahead approach to fracking is threatening our fundamental freedom of protest in Britain.

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12 Responses to “Excessive and bullying police tactics show how the fracking debate is being lost in the UK”

  1. Riggers

    The police don’t need political pressure putting on them to act like thugs, they enjoy it knowing full well they’ll never be prosecuted for it. What I’d like to know is why private security services are allowed to get away with wanton thuggery? They have no legal powers beyond the boundaries of the private property they are supposed to be patrolling. What we need is a legal challenge to their off site activities.

  2. Kath breen

    My father served in the police for twenty five years, including service during the blitz in Liverpool. He would have been ashamed to call these people colleagues.

  3. Paul T. Smith

    That Britain is developing into a Police State is now beyond being hypothetically dystopian. Actions such as these, and those reported by Netpol, support the worst suspicions that legitimate protest is now viewed as a form of extremism by Government and its agents, such as the Police. Democracy is an empty word devoid of genuine meaning

  4. Michael Cross

    I can’t defend bone-headed policing, but where the flipping heck do these protesters think our current supplies of natural gas come from? And have they looked at the end-to-end environmental costs of the alternatives? Fracking isn’t perfect for lots of reasons, but at least it forces us to confront in our own backyards the consequences of our energy consumption.

  5. Alasdair Macdonald

    As usual, the conflation of U.K. and England. Last week the Scottish Government, with support from SNP, Greens, Labour and LibDems, banned fracking in Scotland.

    Of course, LFF would not report such a parochial thing. And, how did the BBC report it? They led with the Tories opposition to the ban and held a phone in based on the Tory press release.

  6. Mike Stallard

    Michael Cross has stolen my comment! I thoroughly agree – as does my son in law who is in the oil industry. It has been going on for decades now, is perfectly safe and produces lots and lots of energy for all those green electric cars of the future.
    PS Yorkshire used to be the industrial capital of the world. Now it bans fracking. That’s progress for you!

  7. Steve White

    In response to Michael Cross and Mike Stallard, we now import roughly half the gas we use, whilst EXPORTING around 30% of the gas we produce. Of the gas we import, in the region of 80% comes from Norway and The Netherlands. The Government’s own “Gas Security of Supply” paper published this month admits we don’t need UK shale gas for security of supply – which is not surprising given that industry-funded research in April this year estimated that there is less than 3 years’ worth of accessible gas in the UK.

    In spite of what your son says Mike, onshore high volume hydraulic fracturing into shale is a relatively new set of techniques, Including directional horizontal drilling. It hasn’t been going on for decades, and there is incontrovertible evidence of harm wherever it has taken place. It’s a question of whether we believe the harm is worth the benefit. The benefits have been consistently oversold, whilst the negatives have been minimised, in a rather comical “won’t happen here because we’re British” kind of way.

  8. Steve White

    The article was about heavy-handed policing to support and industry whose probable contribution to energy security is doubtful. This month’s “Gas Security of Supply” paper published by the government is very clear that UK shale gas is not needed for energy security – not surprising given industry research in April this year gave the latest estimate of accessible gas from UK shale at just under 3 years worth of UK usage. Unfortunately some fell for the early hype, whilst downsides were studiously underplayed.

    By the way, since we currently export around 30% of our own North Sea Gas, we can’t be that worried about supply. Our imports mostly (80%?) come from “dodgy regimes” such as Norway and The Netherlands. We can’t give gas up overnight, but we do know we need to transition away. Starting our own new onshore fossil fuel industry at great expense when there are more global supplies of hydrocarbons than we can ever burn is simply irrational

  9. Charmian Larke

    the fracking protesters have science and economics on their side. Fracked wells deplete around 85% within three years- so more and more wells have to be drilled, at great expense. The USA fracking explosion is only leading to dramatically increased debts for the companies involved- and no profit at all. If they cannot make profits, even with their lax regulatory environment how do we think companies can make profits doing the same activity in the UK, with our increased regulation?

  10. Anna

    Quite unbelievable how both Michael and Mike have been hoodwinked into believing fracking is ‘safe’. Show me the studies to prove this. Show me studies that have not been funded in any way by the fracking/oil industry. I will show you people rrom the US whose lives and drinking water have been ruined by this. Fracking is not safe, not good for the environment and it is high time all the patents for free energy that the oil companies have locked away were brought out of the moth balls. Oops silly me, they will not do anything that does not turn a handsome profit.

  11. Roger Bruton

    I served to protect my country twice once doing National Service and much later when the Cold War got hot in the 1980s I served again in a Home Service Force unit of the T.A. Read about Exercise Able Archer in West Germany in 1983 when, for several days, the Russians thought it was the prelude to WW3. I didn’t serve to make the future safe for the crooks and liars in Third Energy and Quadrilla who salt their profits away in the Cayman Islands.

  12. Lynn Hargreaves

    The police are under resourced and over stretched which makes me think this is a government instruction rather than a response from police directly?

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