NORTH Wales Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Arfon Jones says the Police have become the “glorified security guards” of the fracking industry.
Unless the “well-funded” fracking industry is prepared to foot the entire bill, Mr Jones believes police officers should not be present at any of the demonstrations at drilling sites across the UK.
In the first full set of answers to the #wedemandtherights campaign‘s 16 questions put to all 42 PCCs, Mr Jones said: “All forces are under pressure and we can ill afford to provide glorified security guards to police a practice that many of the public we represent oppose. I oppose providing security to a well-funded private enterprise free of charge.”
Asked about the practice of slow walking – which is now outlawed as a method of protest at INEOS’s sites throughout the UK, following confirmation in the High Court last week of a series of civil injunctions in favour of the shale gas explorer – Mr Jones said: “Slow walking on public highways is legitimate, as was shown by numerous acquittals at the Barton Moss protests.” INEOS owns the onshore drilling rights over 1.2 million acres of land in the UK.
Mr Jones goes on to say that, generally speaking, the policing of demonstrations at fracking sites should be a matter for civil and not criminal law, although he opposes the INEOS injunctions: “By criminalising protest the Police are perceived as being biased and favouring corporate interests. In this case, [however,] I believe the courts were wrong to grant an injunction and sufficient weight was not given to the public interest, as opposed to corporate interests.”
Section 14 of the Public Order Act
With regard to the use by police of Section 14 of the Public Order Act, which gives them discretionary power to impose conditions on the right to assembly if they feel that there is a risk of “serious public disorder, serious criminal damage or serious disruption to the life of the community”, Mr Jones said: “This is one of many powers passed over the years that have significantly eroded our human and civil rights. If used fairly and proportionately it can enhance community safety, but on the other hand the power can be abused to gag legitimate protest especially in the absence of PCC scrutiny and challenge.” Mr Jones’s full responses are at the bottom of this page.
In the meantime, wideopenroads has been told that our campaign has “focused some minds”, and it is our understanding that the PCCs’ representative body, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, has been ringing around its members asking them if they would like a corporate response drafted to the questions. In the covering email to our question set we pointed out that a corporate/ collective response would not be considered acceptable, given that individual PCCs are directly elected in their own force areas.
We are now looking at the option of reporting all those PCCs who refuse to answer our questions properly, to their respective Police and Crime Panels, which were set up to monitor individual PCCs and investigate complaints against them.
If you support us it would add weight to our campaign if readers could leave a Comment in the Comments box at the bottom of this page.
As our evidence base for filing complaints, which will result in all our questions being minuted, we will use the Home Office’s own guidelines about PCCs. In response to a Freedom of Information request in 2012 the Home Office responded: “Police and crime commissioners (PCCs) will be directly accountable to the public and subject to ongoing public scrutiny [and] have the democratic mandate to respond to local people’s concerns. PCCs are the most significant democratic reform of policing in our lifetime. PCCs are a key component of a comprehensive plan to fight crime. This is part of our programme to devolve power and responsibility to decentralise government in those areas where the professionals and the public should be in the driving seat.”
Additionally, in the Home Office-published handbook, ‘Raising awareness of Police and Crime Commissioners: A handbook for police communicators‘ members of the public are told: “It’s your role to make sure PCCs act in your interest.”
Duty to answer?
We feel that these guidelines imply a duty upon PCCs to answer questions about matters that are of concern to the public, and there can be fewer subjects that are higher on the public agenda than fracking, the policing of demonstrations against it, and the use of civil injunctions to restrict the ability to mount effective protest against it.
If PCC offices have time to engage local bands to spread glossy public relations messages about the benefits of having a PCC – as is the case in Lancashire, where local band The Hotpots recorded a publicity video in 2012 as part of a ‘Be Part Of It’ campaign on behalf of the Lancashire PCC office (see video above) – we feel they should also have the time to answer legitimate questions of national and local importance. To date Clive Grunshaw, the PCC for Lancashire which has been particularly affected by the fracking issue, has failed to give us any answers to our questions. This despite his website saying: “I continually consult with the people of Lancashire through roadshows, events, online and telephone surveys to ensure your views and priorities are reflected.”
In fact, so far just five of the 42 PCCs have responded to the questions in four-and-a-half days. One of them, John Campion, PCC for West Mercia, told us via his office’s “Communications and Engagement Officer”, Elizabeth Piggins, that he had no comment whatsoever to make.
Lorne Green, PCC for Norfolk, told us in his response that fracking was not an issue in his area, and concluded in his 52-word response: “I believe, Mr Kenyon, there are authorities within parts of the country where fracking is an issue who would be better placed to respond to your questions.” In response to this claim, wideopenroads refers Mr Green back to constituents in Norfolk who are concerned enough about large quantities of silica sand being supplied to the fracking industry from the western part of the county that they have started up a petition against it, that, to date 582 people have signed. There is also a Norfolk Against Fracking Facebook page active in his area.
The PCC portfolio holder for human rights, David Munro, penned a longer response to the questions but failed to answer most of them. He told us that one of the roles of the PCC was to “maintain the operational independence of forces to police protests.”
The full responses from all those commissioners who have so far replied – including those of Mr Arfon Jones – are available here.
The responses of Arfon Jones, PCC for North Wales
1. In whose interest do the crime commissioners operate?
I see myself as the elected voice of the people of North Wales and I represent them in dealing with North Wales Police.
2. As a publicly elected official, will the crime commissioner take steps to follow the weight of opinion in his/her police force area with regard to fracking? What efforts has (s)he made to ascertain the level of this opinion in his/her police force area?
I have already done this by bringing pressure to bear on North Wales Police by influencing them NOT to deploy officers to assist Lancashire Police to facilitate Cuadrilla to fracking on Preston New Road. We no longer deploy.
The arguments against are threefold:
(a) All forces are under pressure and we can ill afford to provide glorified security guards to police a practise that many of the public we represent oppose.
(b) I oppose providing security to a well funded private enterprise free of charge.
(c) The National Assembly of Wales will in all probability ban fracking once the power to do so is devolved, I feel uncomfortable in sending officers from one country to another to police a business which in their own country is bordering on unlawfulness.
3. Having taken such efforts, will (s)he be prepared to influence operational decisions in his/her police force area in respect of allocation of police resources at fracking sites/ drilling sites both in his/her own area, and/or in respect of support of other police force area requests for back-up officer support?
Yes as above in 2.
4. Does the crime commissioner believe that protest (generally) that does not in any way affect the activities (business or otherwise) of its intended target can be effective?
Of course. There is no purpose in protesting unless it has a reasonable chance of achieving an end result. The purpose of protest is to influence behaviour and policy decisions.
5. If (s)he does, can (s)he explain how can it be effective?
By preventing or discouraging an activity that protestors believe to be harmful such as fracking.
6. Would the crime commissioner agree that only a very small minority of arrests at anti-fracking demonstrations are for alleged crimes of violence?
I have no evidence one way or another so regretfully I cannot answer this question.
7. Does the crime commissioner support the use of Section 14 of the Public Order Act, which gives police discretionary power to impose conditions on the right to assembly if they feel that there is a risk of “serious public disorder, serious criminal damage or serious disruption to the life of the community”? If they do not, why are they allowing it to be used in their areas?
This is one of many powers passed over the years that have significantly eroded our human and civil rights. If used fairly and proportionately it can enhance community safety, but on the other hand the power can be abused to gag legitimate protest especially in the absence of PCC scrutiny and challenge.
8. Does the commissioner believe that slow-walking and lock-ons should be considered legitimate acts of protest?
Slow walking on public highways is legitimate, as was shown by numerous acquittals at the Barton Moss protests. Lock-ons on private property are trespass and on public property could be construed as obstruction.
9. Does the crime commissioner endorse the September 2017 independent report of NETPOL, ‘Protecting the Environment is Not a Crime: A Report on the Policing of Anti-Fracking Protests During 2017’, which investigates the role of police at demonstrations throughout the UK but especially in Lancashire? If not, why not?
The NETPOL report raises legitimate concerns, many of which I have sympathy with. I haven’t had the opportunity to consider the report in detail but I have asked the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners [the representative body of all 42 PCCs] to consider the report and to respond.
10. Does the commissioner believe that the INEOS injunctions upheld in the High Court on 23 November represent a threat to civil liberties; and if not, how so?
Yes, as I have outlined before in a supportive tweet [which, referring to our article ‘The INEOS injunctions: Undermining the right to protest‘ (26 November), read: “Please read if you’re interested in the erosion of our civil rights by the state”).
11. Is the crime commissioner supportive of civil injunctions with regard to law enforcement at fracking sites, or should the matter be left in the hands of the criminal courts?
This is a tough question because the INEOS decision muddies the water between between the public and private; but on balance I feel civil law is more appropriate because because of the nature of INEOS’s business and that it is on private land. By criminalising protest the Police are perceived as being biased and favouring corporate interests. In this case I believe the courts were wrong to grant an injunction and sufficient weight was not given to the public interest, as opposed to corporate interests.
12. Will the crime commissioner be supportive of any other company(ies) that seek in future to revert to the civil courts as a way of protecting their business interests?
No. As at 11 above.
13. Will the commissioner be putting pressure on the Government to listen to the overwhelming mass of public opinion against fracking?
I have opposed fracking since long before I was elected as a PCC, and the pressure we put on elected politicians in Wales has borne fruit, with a majority of the National Assembly of Wales voting against fracking in a recent motion. I have no doubt that when the power is devolved then fracking will be banned in Wales.
14. Does the commissioner believe that it is his/her role to try as best as possible to influence his police force’s operational decisions in line with the weight of public opinion in his/her police force area?
Most certainly yes.
15. Does the crime commissioner believe that, with regarding to the policing of fracking demonstrations, police officers are being forced into a position they do not want to be in?
I have no evidence one way or another.
16. Is it the job of a crime commissioner to exert pressure as necessary, and where necessary – including upon national Government – to protect the interests of those local communities that directly elected them? If not, why not: and what is the point of having a local mandate, or indeed having a directly elected crime commissioner in the first place?
Yes absolutely, I have done it and will continue to do so.