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Kent Police should-just return to fighting crime

A piece of my mind

Julie Wassmer
TV writer, author and local campaigner

LAST month I commented on a Guardian newspaper report on how Kent Police had asked for a list of names of the attendees to a university fracking debate. Having been a panelist on the debate, which took place in November at Canterbury Christ Church University, I followed the story, noting that the university had refused to hand over the list, which it felt would have been inappropriate. Further news reports and public complaints led to an apparent volte face by Kent Police, who began to deny that they had ever asked for such a list, although this contradicted various sources, including the BBC, as Radio Kent presenter Julia George had stated on air that Kent Police had confirmed the request to the station. I asked whether such a request might have constituted an incitement for the university to breach the Data Protection Act, which prevents the passing on of information without the consent of the individuals listed.

Fresh details, now obtained following Freedom of Information requests from The Guardian and Stuart Jeffery, the Green Party candidate for Canterbury and Whitstable, have led to a more complete picture of police actions – and the threat from Stuart Jeffery of a complaint to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

The Guardian reported in a fresh article last week that “a senior academic responsible for organising the debate emailed colleagues to say that the university had been asked by Special Branch for a list of everyone who will be attending”. The academic admitted they had “some concerns about doing so with respect to the Data Protection Act”. Documents released to The Guardian also confirm that Kent Police had decided a number of things needed to be done.The report read:

“One of them was that two police officers — names deleted in the documents – require to know when the tickets are issued will the name of who is in the receipt of the tickets be recorded? (Blacked out) if they are there will need to be some R&D”.”

R&D? Why on Earth would there need to be R&D (research and development) undertaken by Kent Police on citizens attending a public debate on a subject that is of local and national importance? I have commented that Dover district chief inspector Steve Barlow seems to have made the mistake of conflating fracking protest with legitimate debate on the subject. But I now believe that the facts revealed give rise for far greater concern. During the Balcombe protests in 2013,1 took with me a placard on which I had transcribed the Police Oath as a reminder that while ordinary citizens were exercising their democratic right to peacefully protest against the drilling company, which the police were actively protecting, the officers should remember their pledge to “truly serve.., upholding fundamental human rights and according equal respect to all people… and prevent all offences against people”. Getting back to fighting crime, rather than criminalising innocent people for attending fracking debates, might be an important lesson to Kent Police at this time.

Herne Bay Times, February 11th 2015

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