Documents reveal North Yorkshire Police’s close relationship with fracking firms

17th November 2017 / United Kingdom
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New documents reveal North Yorkshire Police's close relationship with fracking firms

By SpinWatch: North Yorkshire Police has met regularly with fracking firms Third Energy and INEOS, and shared information about protestors, documents reveal. Released by the North Yorkshire Police (NYP) in response to a series of freedom of information requests, the heavily redacted 200 pages of information shed light for the first time on NYP’s close relationship with the fracking industry.

 

Operation Kingfisher, the code name for policing of fracking related activities in North Yorkshire, faces renewed criticism following revelations about how NYP and Third Energy shared information on fracking campaigners and worked together to restrict lawful protest.

The documents also reveal how NYP counter terrorism officers have advised on security measures for Third’s Kirby Misperton fracking site.

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Emails show too that INEOS, the chemical giant and shale gas explorer owned by billionaire Jim Ratcliffe, has held ‘informal’ meetings with North Yorkshire Police to discuss its future plans in North Yorkshire and to ‘share knowledge’. The firm has even created a new ‘dedicated police liaison officer’ role.

 

This latest investigation follows on from last December, when Spinwatch exposed how North Yorkshire Police (NYP) were unfairly targeting the anti-fracking movement, by using the counter terrorism ‘Prevent’ strategy training in at least three district councils to link the campaign with domestic extremism. York Council, for example, in collaboration with NYP listed anti-fracking protestors as ‘key risks to York’ alongside Islamic terrorists and far right extremists.

 

After Spinwatch broke news of this disturbing use of UK counter terrorism policy, NYP and the Home Office were forced to release statements to reassure concerned campaigners and local communities.

A Home Office spokesperson said‘Prevent is about safeguarding people at risk of being drawn into terrorism – support for anti-fracking is not an indicator of vulnerability.’  

North Yorkshire Police confirmed‘To avoid any doubt, anti-fracking protestors are not seen as a terrorist threat by the police in North Yorkshire. Local protestors have been nothing but peaceful and respectful of the law. Not one arrest made.’

Yet despite these reassurances last December, NYP continues to invest vital public resources on monitoring anti-fracking related activities. The new FOI documents show that it met at least 13 times with Third Energy and INEOS between April 2016 and early March 2017. Two of those meetings took place after December.

Although heavily redacted, the email exchanges offer valuable insight into the close relationship that Operation Kingfisher has facilitated between NYP, INEOS and Third Energy since it began three years ago in 2014.

 

1. NYP counter terrorism officers advising on Third Energy’s fracking site

The FOI documents reveal that NYP counter terrorism officers undertook a security review of Third Energy’s planning application for Kirby Misperton in 2015. As a result, the firm changed the plans to include a 2.7 metre high steel security fence, topped with barbed wire, around the site perimeter.

The fence was not in Third Energy’s initial application, so required an additional application. The firm told the council that:

‘This application was submitted and determined prior to recent protestor activity at well sites across the UK. A security fence was not included within the original application for the site. The Applicant, in discussion with North Yorkshire Police has undertaken a review of site security which determined that additional fencing and entrance gate are required to assist in the continued security of the site.’

 

Third Energy’s explanation was backed up by Jim Shanks of NYP:

‘I can confirm that North Yorkshire Police Counter Terrorism Security Advisers carried out a review of site security at the application site and advised on the perimeter security measures that are subject of this planning application. The North Yorkshire Police fully support the proposal.’

 

News of counter terrorism policing resources being used in this way has angered campaigners.

We note with some alarm that the Applicant has consulted North Yorkshire Police Counter Terrorism Security Advisors regarding the need for a security fence,’ said Frack Free Ryedale.

‘While we acknowledge that many local people are opposed to fracking, which Third Energy are hoping to undertake at KM8/KMA, we utterly refute the implication that people who are opposed to fracking should be classed as ‘terrorists’, or that advice from counter terrorist forces is necessary or required. Frack Free Ryedale is a peaceful organisation of concerned residents and friends of Ryedale, many of whom are retired people, mothers and local business people, who believe sincerely that fracking will be very much to the detriment of the residents, businesses, farms and wildlife.’

 

2. North Yorkshire Police reluctantly releases the ‘publication strategy’ for Operation Kingfisher

It took a long and protracted internal review process to get North Yorkshire Police to release its Operation Kingfisher publication strategy. The purpose of this two-page document, signed off by NYP in February 2016, is to assist NYP staff in dealing with questions raised by the public and media about the ongoing operation.

Interestingly, NYP used the ‘national security concerns’ exemption to redact one key sentence relating to the allocation of police resources. The sentence in question reads:

‘Care will be taken to ensure that no adverse tactical information is published, for example a breakdown of budgets and resources {REDACTED} – Thereby engaging section 30, 31 and 24.’

It is plausible – given the involvement of NYP’s counter terrorism advisers in the Kirby Misperton planning application – that the redacted section in the ‘strategy’ refers to the avoidance of disclosing counter terrorism policing ‘budgets and resources’.

If NYP are indeed wasting counter terrorism policing resources on monitoring anti-fracking campaigners this would directly contradict the statements by NYP and the Home Office published last December, which asserted that they don’t view anti-fracking campaigning as an indicator of extremism or its activists a threat.

 

3. North Yorkshire Police and Third Energy keeping tabs on Yorkshire anti-fracking group meetings

Previously ‘restricted’ emails now released under this latest FOI request reveal how Third Energy and North Yorkshire Police have monitored the communications of Frack Free York.

In July 2016 Third Energy shared a copy of Frack Free York’s newsletter which included details of the group’s upcoming ‘planning and strategy meeting’ in a local pub. This was to discuss the ‘Yorkshire against Fracking’ rally taking place in York later that month.

It is unclear if NYP sent an officer to the meeting or how Third Energy obtained a copy of the newsletter. The emails exchanged between them however give an insight into the informal relationship that police forces are developing with fracking firms in the UK. (Full transcript below)

 

4. North Yorkshire Police lobbies council and Third Energy to close public footpath around controversial fracking site

In October 2015, NYP responded to North Yorkshire County Council’s (NYCC) planning consultation on Third Energy’s controversial fracking plans in Kirby Misperton. The police force requested a public footpath be closed to stop protestors from ‘lawfully’ using the stretch of roadway to ‘slow walk’ vehicles along the footpath. This tactic is lawful, but has sometimes caused police ‘significant’ challenges at other fracking sites.

North Yorkshire Police not only leaned on the council to close the footpath  – they also wrote to Third Energy on the matter. One previously restricted police email in March 2016 urged the energy firm to contact NYCC to discuss the issue, stating that, ‘it is in Third Energy’s best interests to facilitate this’.

NYP also used the planning consultation in late 2015 to inform the county council of ‘the local situation’:

‘There are both local and national groups that are likely to object to the commencement of hydraulic fracturing at the KMA wellsite. Local protest groups have already formed (e.g. http://frackfreeryedale,org and http://frackfreenorthyorkshire.com). The national group “Frack Off” is also publicising the planning application for the KMA wellsite on their website and is hoping to attract support from like-minded protest groups nationwide.’

NYP further noted:

‘…there is every reason to anticipate that there will be substantial, determined and sustained anti-fracking protest activity at Kirby Misperton.’ 

Use of the phrase ‘the local situation’ in the consultation letter echoes the rhetoric used in the ‘Prevent’ presentations facilitated by North Yorkshire Police. The York strategy for instance talks of ‘Local picture of need’ and the Richmondshire and Hambleton district council Prevent teams refer to the counter terrorism police’s ‘local profile’.

NYP’s behaviour appears somewhat disingenuous here. They have published various statements confirming anti-fracking campaigners are not a threat to the local area. Meanwhile behind the scenes they have actively lobbied to restrict the ability for anti-fracking groups to lawfully protest on a public right of way.

 

5.INEOS enter the fray….

The FOI releases from NYP reveal that chemicals giant INEOS has also ramped up cooperation with police forces covering their fracking licence areas. The documents show numerous meetings with North Yorkshire Police and Humberside police.

One such ‘informal’ meeting between NYP and Ineos was held in an undisclosed location away from the ‘cold surroundings of a police station’. Its purpose according to the NYP sergeant, was to have ‘an informal meet prior to heading over to Beverley to update you with NYP’s position and chat about issues we have had already with other planning for other companies’.

Another email between NYP and INEOS sent late November 2016 suggests INEOS are in the process of submitting ‘a number of planning applications for exploration wells’ and therefore ‘liaison between INEOS and the police service in our areas of operation is fundamental to the safe and successful delivery of these projects’. The firm also introduced their newly appointed ‘dedicated police liaison’.

Minutes from an April 2016 meeting at the Humberside police’s Beverley station, which included two other fracking firms Egdon Resources and Cuadrilla, confirmed that INEOS ‘seem to be the most ambitious (yet understated) energy operator for UK drilling’.

Altogether, the documents show NYP held at least 13 meetings with Third Energy and INEOS between April 2016 and the beginning of March 2017.

Concerns are likely to be raised about the ‘informal’ nature of some of these meetings. Furthermore, it appears that INEOS are in the process of submitting ‘a number of planning applications’. At the time of writing, INEOS has made no effort to inform residents in North Yorkshire of any pending planning applications. This news is likely further alienate an already unpopular fracking industry and anger residents once again.

 

Conclusion

North Yorkshire Police has seen a nine per cent reduction in staff numbers since 2010. Against a backdrop of limited resources and further cuts, its continued monitoring of peaceful anti-fracking campaigners and use of valuable counter terrorism resources to advise fracking firms will continue to cause public outcry.

Both the Home Office and the NYP have confirmed that anti-fracking protestors are not considered a terrorism threat. The allocation of vital policing and counter terrorism resources in this way should be immediately re-evaluated.

 

Russell Scott is an investigative researcher and campaigner with Frack Free North Yorkshire. 

 

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