Special Branch wanted to gather intelligence about audience at a Canterbury Christ Church University fracking debate by Alex Claridge, April 29, 2015, Kent online
Kent Police have belatedly admitted they planted a Special Branch detective inside a public meeting to monitor the activities of [concerned citizens and politicians.]
Initially, the force would only confirm that a chief inspector from Dover had attended the debate at Canterbury Christ Church University in November as any exploratory drilling is most likely to take place in his area.
It prompted police and crime commissioner Ann Barnes to order an investigation into the police presence.
Now, a report by Deputy Chief Constable Paul Brandon admits that a Special Branch detective was there for “the gathering of information and intelligence that could prevent harm being caused to those attending such a meeting or any similar meetings” and was involved in Operation Keswick, the Force’s response to fracking protests.
Called Fracking in the UK, the meeting took place on November 19 and featured both those in favour and against drilling for shale gas.
Among the speakers were prominent Green Party [candidates and ordinary citizens concerned for their health and loved ones, and country] such as Julie Wassmer from Whitstable.
When it emerged officers had attended, Kent Police was accused of an “abuse of power” and “political policing against the Greens”.
This week Stuart Jeffery, the Green Party general election candidate for Canterbury and Whitstable, said: “It seems the level of police anxiety over a simple public meeting was even higher than previously thought.
“They had already admitted that a chief inspector has attended the meeting in plain clothes and now we learn that a Special Branch officer was planted in the meeting as well.
“Public debate on important issues should not be subject to police surveillance and to learn that Special Branch were there and that their spying operation was given the name Operation Keswick is frankly appalling.
“I attended the meeting as an interested member of the public and as someone who has a deep interest in fracking.
“While I would not be put off by the police’s actions, I am certain that others would.
“It is important people are able to debate important issues freely. There were no demonstration at the meeting and no public disorder.
“It is clear the police have overstepped the mark.”
Mr Brandon found that a complaint from Mr Jeffery about police attendance at the meeting was unproven.
But he said officers involved would receive words of advice in order to be “clear and specific” about their work so that they could “avoid ambiguity and misunderstanding” when dealing with outside organisations. [Emphasis added]
Kent Police slammed for snooping after asking for a list of people attending a fracking debate at Canterbury Christ Church University by Alex Claridge, December 16, 2014, Kent on line
Kent Police is under fire today after it emerged the force demanded a list of people who attended a fracking debate at Canterbury Christ Church University. The force claims it made the demand for reasons of “public safety” and to assess “the threat and risk for significant public events”.
But critics have branded Kent Police’s actions reprehensible.
Sociology academics organised a debate on November 19 for members of the public to discuss the pros and cons of fracking, which some companies are pushing to test in east Kent.
Among those attending was Thanet district Green Party councillor Ian Driver. He said: “It’s deplorable. This was a public debate. It was not a meeting planning any actions, protests or demonstrations. It was simply a public discussion about a controversial issue.”
Anti-fracking activist Julie Wassmer, from Whitstable, tweeted: “I was a panel speaker at this uni debate. Outrageous!”
Richard Stainton, who is also from Whitstable, added: “Police need more cuts if [they have] time to snoop on students.”
Christ Church has refused to provide police with the list of attendees. [Bravo!]
Stuart Jeffery, the Green Party general election candidate for Canterbury and Whitstable, is also furious at the demand. He said: “As one of the people who attended the debate, I believe that your request is an abuse of your powers and I seek your formal apology and assurance that steps will be taken to ensure that this does not recur.
“I am, however, extremely pleased that Canterbury Christ Church University refused to provide the information.
“While I, as a public figure, am personally happy for others to know of my attendance at the debate, there will be many in the audience who do not wish you to have their details – details that you have no right to know.”
Kent Police spokesman Steve Knight said: “Kent Police assesses the threat and risk for significant public events in the county to allow it to maintain public safety and appropriately allocate resources. This assessment includes engaging and working with event organisers.
“However, Kent Police did not obtain a list of people who had expressed an interest in attending.
“Police attendance was not required during the meeting, but the Dover District Chief Inspector did attend the event as an interested stakeholder.”
Kent Police refused to outline how the inspector could be an “interested stakeholder”.
A spokesman for the University and College Union, which represents academics, said: “Academic freedom is a key tenet of our democracy and rightly cherished by our universities.
“We are extremely uncomfortable with the police asking for details of people intending to attend a public meeting.
“Universities must remain a safe space for students, staff and guests to rigorously debate any issue and not fear that the police, or any other Big Brother figure, is looking over them knowing who they are and where they live.” [Emphasis added]
[Refer also to:
Slide from Ernst speaking events
2007: If the EUB (now AER) is truly repentant about its cloak-and-dagger spying efforts and really wants to regain the trust of Albertans, this focus on a single development project is a pretty weak effort
2014: Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) illegally spied on Canadians; Harper government insisted CSEC never spied on Canadians; Spy agency’s work with CSIS, RCMP fuels fears of privacy breaches
2014: Complaint filed over alleged illegal searches of private information on Northern Gateway pipeline opponents by RCMP, CSIS and handing the information over to oil companies and Canada’s national energy regulator
Slide from Ernst presentations