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Police ‘abused power’ by spying on fracking debate

Whitstabie’s Green Party parlimentary candidate Stuart Jeffery, right, requested the FOl after the university debate
Whitstabie’s Green Party parlimentary candidate Stuart Jeffery, right, requested the FOl after the university debate

Kent Police has been accused of an “abuse of power” following allegations it planted plainclothes officers in the audience of a fracking debate at Canterbury Christ Church University. It emerged this week that a chief inspector requested two officers monitor the meeting, which took place on November 19, following concerns over the attendance of a prominent Green Party activist. The party is accusing the force of “political policing against the Greens”. Kent Police has already come under fire for asking the university to hand over a list of all those who attended. Its actions were branded “deplorable” and “outrageous”. A Freedom of Information Act (FOI) request by the Green Party has revealed the force made a conscious decision to send inspectors to the meeting. A document labelled ‘Meeting Summary’ states:

“Ch/Insp [name redacted] requested that CI [name redacted] and DI [name redacted] register to attend the university debate.”

It says there will be

“some high-profile figures present, one being Mr Ian Driver, the Green Party councillor for Thanet. Links have been made with local security”.

Stuart Jeffery, the Green Party’s general election candidate for Canterbury and Whitstable, submitted the FOI request after it came to light that Kent Police had asked for the names of attendees to the November meeting. Mr Jeffery is to ask the Independent Police Complaints Commission to investigate his findings. He said this week:

“It is clear that Kent Police are continuing their campaign of political policing against the Greens. Planting plain-clothes officers into the audience of a university debate simply because it is on an issue of interest to the Greens is frankly an abuse of power and a waste of resources. Their request to ask the university to break the law by providing a list of attendees is surely incitement? This may well be a criminal act under the Serious Crimes Act 2007.”

Christ Church confirmed it knew officers were attending the meeting. Spokesperson Holly Finch said:

“The debate, Fracking in the UK, was an open meeting to the public and any person could apply for tickets. Due to the booking system in place, the university was aware members of Kent Police were attending the event. The booking system does not ask people booking to state their reason for attendance.”

Police documents reveal that much of the concern centres on the attendance of Cllr Driver, who actually stormed out of the meeting. The debate, between pro- and anti-fracking speakers, was arranged by the university to promote discussion on an emotive subject. Kent Police has yet to comment on the revelations.


Kent Police officers face tough future
Kent Police officers face tough future

Government cuts of £463 million to police in Kent will leave the force facing “meltdown” if passed, the officers’ union is warning. As many as 115 jobs could go as a result of the cuts and the Kent Police Federation fears the force may only be able to answer emergency calls. Federation chairman Ian Pointon said:

“The police will be reduced to a fire brigade emergency service, reactive rather than proactive. There will not be enough money to do anything pro-active. A lot of frontline policing relies on support staff and they won’t be there. There will be meltdown, make no bones about it.”

Police commissoner Ann Barnes
Police commissoner Ann Barnes

Of the 115 jobs being axed, half will be through staff retiring or leaving and not being replaced. Some money will be saved this year through £4.1m of so-called “efficiency savings” and through more collaboration with Essex police, saving £2.5m. The force has already had to save £50m in the last three years, losing 500 jobs in the process. Mr Pointon went on:

“We are going back to the levels of funding we saw in the 1980s.”

Herne Bay Gazette, February 5th 2015

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