The Rise of Corporate Policing?

Has anyone else been as bewildered as me about these arrests of ‘environmental protesters’ in Nottinghamshire?

The BBC reports:

The 114 people arrested at a Nottinghamshire school on Monday posed a “serious threat” to a nearby power station, police have claimed.

Officers said some of the protesters have links to climate change groups, but would not name any organisations.

Over 200 officers from five forces were involved in the operation at the Iona School in Sneinton.

A Nottinghamshire Police spokesman said the group were believed to be targeting the Ratcliffe-On-Soar coal-fired plant.

He added: “Information received during the operation indicates that a number of those arrested may be linked to a group of climate change protesters who have set up climate camps.

The Guardian reports:

A spokeswoman for E.ON said: “We can confirm that Ratcliffe power station was the planned target of an organised protest.

“While we understand that everyone has a right to protest peacefully and lawfully, this was clearly neither of those things so we will be assisting the police with their investigations into what could have been a very dangerous and irresponsible attempt to disrupt an operational power plant.”

Was it really ‘clearly neither of those things’? A pre-emptive arrest of 114 people because they ‘posed a serious threat’ to the local coal-fired power station? Hang on this doesn’t smell right, does it? The BBC’s reporting has completely changed tone this morning too – yesterday they reported that the police ‘had foiled a plot’ – to do what exactly? Local MP Alan Simpson said:

“The scale of it makes people think we are dealing with a major terrorist incident,” he said.

“We understand there were 200 officers involved and my instinctive reaction to that is to say, well there must be something to do with plans to blow something up, to commit a major disruption of society.

“My worry is that what we are talking about, in practice, something much smaller.”

Supt Mike Manley from Nottinghamshire Police said: “We believe this was a proportionate response to the risk.

“It is not for me to comment on the motivation of the protesters but we know from experience that such protests can lead to prolonged policing operations, putting police, protesters and staff at risk.”

So now we’re getting to the truth. This was a political action by the police again. We know from the Kingsnorth fiasco last summer that noone was put at risk by the protesters – noone. The police claimed that their violence against the protesters and abuse of the media was justified because of ‘violence against the police’ and on ‘terrorism’ grounds; neither proved to be true. There was no violence against the police whatsoever – their claims were subsequently found to be lies. So how should we interpret these mass arrests? The Independent says:

There is in this country, as in most democratic states, a right – express or implied – to free assembly. The mass arrest of more than 100 people gathered in the same place comes perilously close to infringing on that freedom.

There is also, and always must be, freedom to protest. The police made their arrests, citing conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass and criminal damage. The councillor hazarded that the planned action might have endangered the power supply across the region. The reference to equipment doubtless had a purpose, too.

But, if we have learned anything in recent months and years, it is that early accounts by police spokesmen to justify particular actions are not always to be relied upon. We saw this only 10 days ago after the death of Ian Tomlinson during the 1 April protests in the City of London. The police account of what happened in Nottingham in the early hours of Monday morning needs to be treated with similar rigour. Simply planning, or engaging in, a protest is not, and should never be, a reason for arrest.

The policing of climate change protests has often left a bitter taste. A Liberal Democrat report on the policing of last year’s climate camp, at Kingsnorth power station in Kent, condemned the vast police operation for tactics designed to intimidate and provoke. At power stations, as at airports, conflicting rights and interests converge: the commercial rights of the owners and operators, the rights of the paying customer, and the right of protesters to make their case. If our civil liberties are to be preserved, the right to protest is as important as the other two.

I think they’re right – we’re in an age where indeed the rights of E.ON, of customers and of protesters are in regular conflict with one another, be it at Kingsnorth, Ratcliffe-on-Soar, Bishopsgate or Heathrow. What’s alarming is that the police’s role in managing this conflict is erring on the side constantly of corporate or political interest interests. I’ll be interested to see where this goes, at least in Ratcliffe. The police are regularly demonising climate camp protesters, and each time their claims are proven to be lies – even at Bishopsgate where they were preemptively attacked by riot police for no reason. Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty said:

“In the light of the policing of the G20 protests, people up and down the country will want to be confident that there was evidence of a real conspiracy to commit criminal damage by those arrested and that this was not just an attempt by the police to disrupt perfectly legitimate protest.”

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4 responses to “The Rise of Corporate Policing?

  1. E.ON hacked into Greenpeace and have had no consequences to my knowledge.

  2. And this is the point isn’t it? It’s not merely about whether the police should have arrested all of these protesters or not. It’s about whose rights are being protected the most, and in the equation I described, the answer is clear: corporate energy firms such as E.ON every time. Yet again energy protesters are being branded quasi-terrorists (they certainly were on the BBC over the weekend).

    Greenpeace’s Executive Director wrote a good article in response which I’m sure you’ve read:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/libertycentral/2009/apr/13/activism-protest

  3. It’s hard not to be nihilistic about climate change though, given most experts seem to think we’re doomed. Plus the police protection just reinforces the idea that politicians think the public isn’t that interested and they can attack those protesting the inaction.

  4. Pingback: Police Are Creatures of Energy Firms « Cosmodaddy

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