Police are conducting searches at an anti-fracking protest camp after a flare was allegedly fired at a police helicopter.
So begins a report in The Independent from a fortnight ago. It continues:
A flare was aimed directly at the approach path of the aircraft as it came into land at Barton airfield in Eccles, Greater Manchester, police said.
The aircrew said it appeared to come from the nearby campsite in Barton Moss Road at about 12.15am on Saturday. […]
Chief Superintendent Mark Roberts, of Greater Manchester Police (GMP), said: “This was an unbelievably stupid act of criminality which was extremely dangerous, not only for the police helicopter, but all other aircraft that use the nearby Barton airfields and the wider public.
“Had this flare caused an emergency situation it would not only have been catastrophic for the aircraft and its crew but potentially for numerous homes near the airfield, the M62 motorway and a children’s residential facility.1
These are, of course, extremely serious allegations. To fire a flare at an aircraft is indeed an “unbelievably stupid act of criminality” and has to be promptly investigated and prosecuted. So it was little surprise that soon after the alleged incident the Greater Manchester Police were issued a warrant by a local court to systematically search the anti-fracking camp. But they found nothing. In response, the protesters themselves called for an inquiry:
“The only violence that we have seen has been conducted by Greater Manchester Police. This is just an excuse to search our through our property and gather evidence.”
Rachel Thompson, from Frack Free Greater Manchester, added: “We refute this claim. Greater Manchester Police have refused to show any evidence of this alleged incident. The behaviour of Greater Manchester Police has been outrageous throughout this whole campaign. In our eyes this is just another aggressive tactic aimed at isolating the camp from the community and to put them in a bad light.
“‘We have asked for a meeting with the Police Commissioner, Tony Lloyd, to discuss the disgusting behaviour of his officers and have been refused. This matter is now with our lawyers but we wish to make it clear that we stand by Barton Moss Community Protection Camp and we call for an inquiry into this alleged incident.”
Click here to read the full report in The Independent.
By Monday 6th this story was mainstream, but by the 7th it is all but lost. Two weeks later, and the story has faded away altogether – try a google search yourself, I can find nothing new.
Now there are only really three possibilities: i) that one or more genuine protesters at the camp really did fire a flare at a police helicopter; ii) that a flare was fired by an agent provocateur; or iii) that the entire story is a police fabrication concocted with intent to tar the image of the Barton Moss camp and the anti-fracking protest movement more widely.
Given the total absence of physical evidence, whether in the form of surveillance footage (for instance from the helicopter itself), or materials subsequently recovered during the search of the camp, we must give credence to this third possibility. That yet another police force is involved in a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. But then, given the comparative seriousness of these latest allegations, the potential ramifications of ‘flaregate’ must far outweigh the more publicised story of ‘plebgate‘. Surely, therefore, a fully independent inquiry – as demanded by the protest organisers themselves – ought be set up to establish the truth or otherwise of these police allegations.
But irrespective of the truth or falsehood of the alleged flare incident, and also putting aside the invasive search of the camp that resulted, protesters at the camp report being routinely subjected to many forms of police harassment and intimidation. For instance, on Wednesday 8th, the day after Manchester magistrates removed all bail conditions that had initially been imposed on protesters arrested by the Greater Manchester Police, GMP officers nevertheless took the decision to rearrest protester Colin Gong on the grounds that he was breaching those same revoked bail conditions. Here is footage both of Colin Gong’s wrongful arrest and also the officers’ shamefaced volte-face:
However, the most savage instance of police intimidation occurred yesterday [January 20th] when a disabled legal observer, Sean O’Donnell, who was filming and reporting a crime to a senior chief inspector was, apparently without provocation, violently accosted by members of GMP TAU (Tactical Aid Unit), who allegedly kicked his legs (one false) from under him while threatening to arrest and detain him for “obstruction”. The footage he recorded is extremely incriminating and very shocking:
If the video is taken down for any reason, the same footage is available at http://bambuser.com/v/4284486.
Sean O’Donnell, who is known as Kris, was later reported to be vomiting and was only taken to hospital at the custody sergeant’s insistence – the arresting officers having wanted to put him in a cell. It’s reported that he had requested medical assistance at the site but was told none was available.
There is also a report of the same incident in today’s Guardian which reads:
O’Donnell claims he vomited before being put in a police van and taken to Swinton police station, with officers ignoring his pleas for a paramedic to attend.
He said the custody sergeant agreed to call an ambulance when he got to the station, and he was taken to Salford’s royal hospital.
After a CT scan and X-ray under police guard he was released back to the police station after receiving treatment, and was later charged.
Simon Pook, a lawyer from Robert Lizar solicitors, representing O’Donell and 35 other arrested protesters from the site, said police refused to let him visit his client in his hospital bed.
The lawyer said he lodged a formal complaint with GMP after an officer allegedly pushed him in the chest at the hospital and told him to “fuck off”.
According to the same article, lawyer, Simon Pook, will “lodge a legal argument in Manchester magistrates court on behalf of the protesters” on January 27th.
Update & Correction:
On Wednesday [Jan 22nd], Sean ‘Kris’ O’Donnell was interviewed about Monday night’s incident by Ian Crane on the internet news show “Fracking Nightmare”. It transpires that contrary to earlier statements Kris O’Donnell does not have a prosthetic limb but that he does suffer from severe disability in one leg.
In an extended 45 minute interview, Kris O’Donnell confirms that his legs were kicked from under him and that he then remembers his head being forced into the ground. He says that he immediately lost consciousness but then woke up vomiting. He says that he was then taken away and refused medical assistance in spite of making ten requests. He claims that he was then forced into a tiny cell and locked up sitting in his own vomit for “upwards of one hour”.
Kris O’Donnell further alleges that he had “fully intended refusing any bail conditions and going to court the next morning” adding that he was “not once cautioned at the point of arrest – the only caution I ever received was [during] the final five minutes at the police station”. He also says that “the police refused to allow me to be interviewed under the standard conditions of a recorded interview with my lawyer present”. He has now been formally charged with obstructing the highway and resisting arrest. In the interview, he also questions why the government is allowing the use of heavy-handed police teams like TAU (Tactical Aid Unit) against peaceful protesters. You can watch the interview 25 mins in:
On January 20th Greater Manchester Police released the following statement:
“Greater Manchester Police is aware of the footage relating to yesterday’s arrest and this has now been passed to GMP’s Professional Standards Branch. Officers are also looking into allegations that a lorry attending the site had an unlawful number plate. Enquiries are ongoing.”
The protest at Barton Moss against IGas gas fracking exploration is set to continue until April when the drilling is expected to halt (at least temporarily). This coming weekend [Sunday 26th] will be marked by another “Solidarity Sunday”. The last solidarity march two weeks earlier on January 12th attracted in the region of five hundred to a thousand people:
There is a coach courtesy of “Frack Free South Yorkshire” leaving from Sheffield train station (outside the Sheffield Tap pub) at 10:30 am. The details for booking a seat and other pick-up points from Doncaster to Sheffield as well as drop-off times for the return journey are listed at the very end of the article.
The main assembly point for the demonstration will again be at the Salford City Reds’ Stadium car park, Stadium Way, Eccles, M30 7EY with the march setting off at 1.00pm. On the following map, the location of the stadium is marked:
Arriving from the East, you need to take the south side of the M60 Manchester ring road. Come off at Junction 11. It’s then the first exit after you go over the huge Manchester Ship Canal bridge. You’ll see the Reds Stadium on your left as you go over the bridge. Go left on the roundabout, sign posted A57 Irlam. As you leave the built up area keep an eye out for a sign that says “Demo Parking next left”. It’s left at the traffic lights (just in case someone nicks the sign). There will also be stewards to direct you. Here is higher resolution map of the final stages of the route:
You will find a map of the protest site along with details for travel (by bus and rail) and for contacting the protest organisers here.
A gallery of photos of the protest so far is also available on the Guardian website [from Monday 13th].
Frack Free South Yorkshire have arranged a coach for our region. Just a £3 contribution is needed and any extra given will go towards funds for your local group. Details of the trip are below.
Date: Sunday 26th January
Coach – 49 seats with Browns Coaches Ltd
Pick up times
09.00 Doncaster (Ward Brothers (Furnishers) Limited, 29-40 Waterdale, Doncaster, DN1 3EZ)
09.30 Maltby (Queens Hotel, Tickhill Road, Maltby, S667NQ)
10.00 Rotherham (Parkgate Shopping, Stadium Way, Rotherham, S60 1TG)
10.30 Sheffield (Train Station – outside the Sheffield Tap pub – to the far left of the train station)
12.00 Eccles, Stadium Way, Manchester (Coach drop-off + meeting place for start of rally – 12min walk to the site)
17.00 COACH DEPARTS: Eccles, Stadium Way, Manchester
Approximate drop-off times
18.30 Sheffield (Train Station – outside the Sheffield Tap pub – to the far left of the train station)
19.00 Rotherham (Parkgate Shopping, Stadium Way, Rotherham, S60 1TG)
19.30 Maltby (Queens Hotel, Tickhill Road, Maltby, S667NQ)
20.00 Doncaster (Ward Brothers (Furnishers) Limited, 29-40 Waterdale, Doncaster, DN1 3EZ)
If you wish to go please email us at (email@example.com) with the following details
2) Pick up point
3) Mobile number (optional)
Things to bring
– Banner/signage representing your community and the extreme energy development you’re resisting
– Warm/waterproof clothes
– Food & water
– Plus Anything from the camp’s wish-list: http://northerngasgala.org.uk/whattobring/(PLEASE NOTE: the items will have to fit in the coach luggage space & nothing flammable.
On Sunday, an estimated thousand protesters arrived on about fifteen coaches from all across the country. It was the first nationwide anti-fracking gathering of its kind. There were also a number of TV companies who covered the event including ITN and a team from France 24.
One of those interviewed was Vanessa Vine whose live debate with Conservative MP Peter Lilley was broadcast on Channel 4 news and can be watched here.
For further coverage of Sunday’s Barton Moss solidarity demonstration, including interviews with other protesters, I also recommend the latest offering (episode 13) of the internet news show “Fracking Nightmare”:
1 From an article entitled “Anti-fracking protesters claim police using incident involving flare ‘aimed at aircraft’ as an excuse to search through the camp”, published in The Independent on January 6, 2014. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/antifracking-protesters-claim-police-using-incident-involving-flare-aimed-at-aircraft-as-an-excuse-to-search-through-camp-9041763.html