Read the full report here.
Listen to Martin Miller, chair of the independent panel, talk about the report.
More robust planning and better engagement with protest groups will help improve public confidence and trust in Greater Manchester Police, says a report into the Barton Moss anti-fracking protest. It also found that protesters should do more to recognise their responsibilities when protesting.
The report has been written by the independent panel set up by Police and Crime Commissioner Tony Lloyd to examine the policing of protests and demonstrations. It was established amid public concerns about policing and other issues around the Barton Moss site and a need for independent scrutiny of related police operations.
Panellists visited the Barton Moss site to see the policing operation first hand, and reviewed social media content, video content, and media coverage. They also spoke to police officers, protesters, local businesses and residents Salford Council, iGas and members of the media.
The panel found that although the majority of people at the site were there to protest peacefully, a small number wanted to antagonise police and cause trouble. This led to all protesters feeling they were treated as criminals because of the actions of a few and resulted in a breakdown of trust between police and protesters.
Claims of police brutality have not been substantiated and specific claims of alleged injuries found to be untrue.
Certain high-profile incidents at the site led to a breakdown in trust between the police and protesters. These included ‘flaregate’ where it was alleged a protester fired a flare at the police helicopter coming in to land at City Airport and the arrest of a member of the camp for alleged drink driving, an incident which was filmed and broadcast online and was later thrown out of court.
The report makes a number of recommendations for the police, protesters and other public bodies, including local authorities to take on board. These include:
- The police should do more to engage with protest groups in the run up to and during similar policing operations with a senior officer given the specific and sole role of engaging with protesters during complex protests.
- Protesters must recognise their responsibilities during protests – while the majority acted lawfully there was a handful whose behaviour was unacceptable including abuse of police officers and social workers who were there to ensure the welfare of children at the site.
- During major protests, GMP should consider inviting a nominated representative of the protesters into the police control room, on the same advisory status as other third party bodies. This should help build trust and confidence in the police operation.
Martin Miller, Chair of the Independent Panel, said:
“Barton Moss attracted significant public and media attention. It was a complex and difficult operation which created a number of issues, and saw officers subjected to daily abuse as they carried out their job. We also found that some protestors were shoved and felt they were treated badly, although I want to stress that allegations of police brutality have not been substantiated.
“This is not about finger-pointing or blame, it’s about giving constructive, valuable feedback to the police, public bodies and also the protesters involved so that lessons can be learned and the management of future protests can be improved.
“Although there were many things that were done right, we found that many of the issues could have been mitigated or resolved by better pre-planning and more constructive communications and engagement with the protesters and wider public.”
Police and Crime Commissioner Tony Lloyd said:
“The police have a duty to ensure that people’s right to protest peacefully is facilitated and respected and although Greater Manchester Police has a good record in policing protests this is a frequent challenge.
“The Barton Moss protest was particularly complex and contentious and, amid the legitimate public concerns raised, it was clear that independent scrutiny of this operation was needed in order to build trust and public confidence in our police service.
“I want to thank the panel members for their observations and advice and for giving up their own time to produce this report. Now I’ll work with GMP and other public bodies to make sure these recommendations are put into practice.”
Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, Sir Peter Fahy said:
“The policing of protests is often contentious and the Barton Moss protest put GMP between those wishing to obstruct the drilling process and a company and landowner wishing to carry out their lawful business.
“It is important that police action is independently scrutinised and we welcome the first report from the Protest Panel. All the recommendations are accepted by the Force. The Panel has highlighted the difficult issues of how to ensure all agencies preplan the response to protest, how the police communicate with protesters when some don’t want to engage with the police and how the police communicate information on a protest without introducing any bias.
“It is crucial in all its dealings with protest that GMP is seen as impartial, policing is not a popularity contest and the police are often stuck in the middle. The policing of this protest cost GMP £1.7m, money which could not then be spent on local policing.
“There is considerable frustration in the Force with the weaknesses of current legislation and the lack of clarity on such issues as obstruction which puts officers in very difficult position. We hope that as the Panel continues its work it can also examine these matters and provoke a wider public debate.”
The report has been presented to Tony and Sir Peter Fahy, who will respond formally in the coming weeks.
More information about the panel is available at gmpcc.org.uk/protest-panel.
Read the full report here.