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Report of police liaison work over the Hinkley blockade weekend of 1st to 3rd October 2011.

Written by Angie Zelter on 12th October 2011.

Summary of Communications Before the Weekend Camp

On 7th July 2011 a message was received through the Stop New Nuclear website from Sergeant Craig Kirk of the Operational Planning unit of the Avon and Somerset Constabulary. He said he was keen to work with us 'to facilitate safe and peaceful protest whilst balancing the rights of everyone involved, local residents, workers and anyone else who might be affected.' He said he would like to 'open dialogue' and to meet 'to begin discussions as to how we might work together to achieve that.' Andreas, Zoe and I had already agreed to do police liaison work and so we arranged a meeting that was held on the 13th August 2011 in Bridgwater.

We met with Sergeant Steve Crago (a local Bridgwater officer who works directly with EDF with regards to disruption caused by the new build eg: new workers in the town, protests etc, which will impact on the local police force. EDF pay for policing related to their activities, so the burden is not placed on the taxpayer) and Sergeant Craig Kirk of Avon and Somerset Portishead H.Q. who will be dealing with operations. We had a useful meeting and aired the major issues of concern to us both.

They wanted to know:

  • start and end times;
  • numbers of people who would blockade;
  • whether blockades would occur only at the main gate;
  • about splinter groups and people getting into the site;
  • where the camp-site would be located;
  • our plans for the demonstration on the Saturday.

We were concerned that they understood:

  • our communication not decision making roles as liaisons – we were a reliable communication link for them;
  • our nonviolence guidelines and spokescouncil methods and that although we would move for ambulance and fire services we would not move for police unless a serious accident at Hinkley;
  • the need for trust and not to abuse our nonviolent agreement to move for ambulance and fire services as this would spoil any future liaison work;
  • our requirements for a safe and convenient parking area, a safe demonstration area and a place to locate toilets;
  • our expectation that they not use any violence to clear the blockade and that all police be informed of our nonviolence guidelines;
  • that any police roadblocks or the possibility of stop and searches of protesters would likely create more trouble than it was worth as it would encourage protesters to start blockading at these points rather than at the power station;
  • we would have a legal support team and expected that the police would give information to this team on whereabouts and release times of anyone arrested and needed to know which were the likely police stations that would be used.

We had a good discussion; gave them basic information (that was in any case available on the website) – start time was officially 7a.m. and end time would be decided by a spokescouncil; that all individuals and groups were autonomous and would make their own decisions but that all activities were based on our nonviolence guidelines; we had ways of dealing with agents provocateurs; the camp-site owners did not want their address known so that no 'strays' would turn up; we also gave them details of the start and finish places and times for the demonstration in Bridgwater and that there would be speakers in Cornhill after the short march. We were given names of likely police stations if there were people arrested. They said they would enquire about parking, toilets and tea stall locations. We suggested that EDF provide the toilets! It was agreed that we should meet again nearer the time with more senior officers who would be controlling the event on the ground.

We had quite a few communications over email and then another meeting was held in Bristol on 17th September with Sergeant Craig Kirk and Inspector Bruce Turnbull of Avon & Somerset police. Andreas and myself (Angie) attended this meeting. Bruce introduced himself as a negotiator, and explained that on the days of the demonstration in Bridgwater and blockade at Hinkley he and Dave will be our communication channel to Ch Supt Tilley, who will be silver commander. The bronze commander will be Ch Insp Paul Richards.

We went through much of the same material as in our last meeting and they outlined their policy:

  • police to facilitate right to peaceful protest
  • aware of element of blockading
  • maintain the peace
  • protect security of staff and nuclear licensed site
  • they will not use police vehicles to transport EDF staff
  • general principle of “no surprises”, so they would communicate their policing.

We were told that EDF will provide parking in a field on the left side of Wicks Moor Drove, about 200-300m before the main gate but that this would probably not be suitable for coaches which would have to drop passengers and then turn around. They would also provide the toilets there and we could put up the tea stall there too.

We exchanged mobile telephone numbers so we could be in contact before and on the day and sort out any problems directly. We asked for professional and nonviolent policing, for no 'in your face' FIT videoing or photography - in fact nothing that would raise tensions, and for all police numbers to be visible.

We felt we had done what we could to set up friendly and co-operative communications with the police.

How it Worked

Friday 30th September 2011 - a police car drove onto the private land where the camp-site was being put up. Angie had not been informed of this police visit and immediately approached the car and asked the police to leave the site as it was private property. The police car contained 2 police officers - Ch. Insp Paul Richards and a police woman (called Terry?). The land-owners came up and also talked to the police. It was a polite exchange and we made it clear they were not invited onto the site and that we would prefer to talk to the police in a public space not on the camp-site. He said he just wanted to introduce himself.

Saturday 1st October 2011 - Andreas and Angie met Bruce Turnbull and Dave Butte, the police communicators/liaisons at just before 1p.m. in Kings Square. There was a fairly low police profile and when the march started they were friendly and helpful in blocking off traffic before and behind the march which was a help although we could have managed without them.

Monday 3rd October 2011 - Andreas and Angie arrived in the dark at around 6.30a.m. and drove right past the parking area which was not well marked, turning around just before the main gate. Several other early protesters were in the process of doing the same. After parking and greeting Nigel and Margaret and their wonderful tea stall , we walked up to the main gate and met with Bruce and Dave. The toilets were nowhere to be seen and we asked them to find out what had happened. It took some time before one of the blockaders saw the toilets close to the main gate.

The police were standing right in front of closed gates – this set up a possible confrontation from the start. Luckily this had been foreseen and in our nonviolence role-play blockaders had prepared for this eventuality and were therefore able to transform the positioning into a positive by placing the large banner across the road in front of the line of police who were left rather isolated between gates and back of a large banner.

Some protesters informed us that they were not being allowed to put banners on the fence – Dave and Bruce checked on this and told us that in fact the police would not stop people doing this. Later in the day though some women were prevented from tying pieces of wool and a web onto the fence. Some protesters wanted to walk the public footpath and were told they could not – again Bruce and Dave informed us that they could of course do this. One woman in a wheelchair was denied access to the main gate in a car and had to be wheeled up the long distance – Bruce and Dave said they could sort out transport for people like this and also for heavy speakers etc but in fact this message did not seem to get through to the police at the car park who prevented 2 disabled people from getting help and also the equipment being brought up by vehicle. These issues showed a lack of communication between various officers on the ground. However, Bruce and Dave did respond positively to all these issues and tried to sort them out as they arose.

At a later stage in the day when it became clear to some of the protesters that they did not want to use their lock-ons they approached Angie to ask if they could take away their lock-ons without getting arrested. This was then arranged by Bruce on the grounds that the police would have no grounds for arrest as they were not intending to commit any crime but were going away from the protest area. The protesters thus walked their lock-on out of the area without problems.

As the hot day advanced there were frequent police shift changes with police walking freely through the protesters. This was fine as it was done in a calm manner and the police did not stay in the protest area. However, when a spokescouncil began in a neighbouring field 7 police officers suddenly moved into the field and a further 4 or 5 moved into the middle of the blockade area looking into the field. This raised tensions and protesters started to gather in concern. The police presence was completely unnecessary. With help from Bruce and Dave, who had not been informed either of the increase in police, they were asked to leave and tensions subsided and the peaceful atmosphere was restored. One or two police would have been enough to find out what was going on in the field.

The police facilitated a request for the one arrested person who was being detained inside a police van inside the site to be taken to the police station within a reasonable time by using another exit, rather than waiting for the blockade to be over and then taking him out of the main gate.

The event was essentially very good-humoured and light in atmosphere. The blockade ended peacefully and the area was left clean and empty by around 4.45p.m.

However, back at the camp-site some time later a mobile CCTV police car (WX58HCP) arrived with 4 police officers (back left - 3729, back right taking the video footage - EGT 4504, front passenger - 2536 and driver - 2979) who began driving around the camp site taking CCTV pictures. It was a shock after such a good day and campers began gathering around the car demanding that it leave. Both Andreas and Angie managed eventually to persuade the car to leave but the driver was not pleasant, the videoing continued the whole time and it left a nasty atmosphere and much of the good work of trust between police and protesters was spoilt. Andreas phoned Bruce and we did get an apology from the Silver Commander who said the police officers had apparently not been asked to do this but simply to report back on approximate numbers still on the site. He confirmed that the video material had been deleted and not retained.

Conclusion

Generally the Stop New Nuclear Police Liaison team that consisted of Andreas, Zoe and Angie were satisfied that our work was useful and contributed to the peaceful atmosphere of the demonstration, blockade and camp. Trust was built up between them and the Police Communicators – Bruce and Dave. We were able to reassure the police of our nonviolence and our right to blockade and protest peacefully. We believe that if fire or ambulance services had needed to use the entrance we would have been able to facilitate this with the spokescouncil process and that the police would have enabled this process to take place if it had occurred quickly and efficiently. Several issues were resolved quickly and easily through our joint communication process. We think that this police liaison work should continue. We will hold a de-brief in the coming weeks with the police and will raise the issues below.

Issues to raise in the Police De-brief

1. Friday 30th September visit to camp-site by Ch. Insp. Paul Richards was on private land, without any warning and with no communication from police to our liaison team. This was not a good start!
2. The police communicators/liaisons wore plain clothes and sandals with just a yellow police liaison jacket. This was reported back to us as being confusing to blockaders who did not recognise that they were police officers, especially problematic was that they did not wear any police numbers or have any other identification. We would prefer, in future, that the police communicators/liaisons wear uniforms with their numbers showing easily.
3. The car park was too far away from the main gate – was this in fact the agreed place? The toilets that EDF had provided were much closer to the main gate – was this in fact meant to be the site of the car park too? We suggest the place where the toilets were positioned this time should be the car park, tea stall and toilet area next time.
4. In future can it be clear from the start that banners can be placed on the fence and that protesters can freely walk on public footpaths without being harassed. In other words can the 'line' be the fence rather than the police?
5. More clarity on access by car to the protest site needs to be arranged so that water, heavy music equipment and disabled people can more easily access the protest area.
6. A spill-over area into one of the neighbouring fields would make the area a little less congested and therefore help to ease any tensions that do arise.
7. Clearer communications to all police officers not to intrude on the privacy of camps on private property without due process (ie. search warrants and notification to the owners).

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