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Kingsnorth Climate Camp

Volume 481: debated on Monday 27 October 2008

3. If she will investigate the policing of the Kingsnorth climate camp; and if she will make a statement. (229771)

Tactics and strategy on policing major events such as the Kingsnorth climate camp are operational matters for the local chief officer.

I regard myself as a supporter of the police, but I cannot condone what I witnessed when I arrived at Kingsnorth. I think that I was the first MP to do so. I witnessed unnecessarily aggressive policing, unprovoked violence against peaceful protestors, an extraordinary number of police on site and tactics such as confiscating toilet rolls, board games and clown costumes from what I saw to be peaceful demonstrators. In the light of what I saw, and of what other MPs witnessed, will the Minister arrange for an independent inquiry into the matter, conducted by either the Independent Police Complaints Commission or by a different police force?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the IPCC is available, as an independent body, to look into any complaints that are made about the police and the way in which they have conducted themselves. I hope that he has made the comments that he has made here to Kent police so that they can be investigated. If he feels that that process is unsatisfactory, he knows that it can then be taken to the IPCC. I would have thought that that would be the appropriate way forward. Notwithstanding the points that he has just made, 70 police officers were also hurt—although none seriously—at that protest.

I hear what my hon. Friend the Minister says, but I had a constituent and friend who was arrested at Kingsnorth for so-called “aggressively picking up litter”, which puts an interesting connotation on what he was trying to do. That case, clearly, is ongoing, but will my hon. Friend at least consider the way in which these major demonstrations are handled and the way in which people who want to demonstrate peacefully about an issue about which they feel strongly have their rights secured? Will he also consider how to ensure that the police who have to control these demonstrations are protected? That did not necessarily work at Kingsnorth.

It is absolutely right that people should have the right to go out and protest peacefully, whether they do so through climate change camps or any of the other demonstrations that we can think of. People in this country have a right to do that. However, it is also right that that should be done in a peaceful and proportionate way, according to the law. If my hon. Friend’s constituent wishes to make a complaint, he should, as I said to the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), go to the police force concerned in the first instance. If that is not satisfactory, he should go to the IPCC. It is a difficult balance to strike, but I believe that, in this case, the police struck the correct balance.

I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that despite what he said about injuries, no protestor has been convicted of any crime of violence at any of the climate camps. It is not just the IPCC that has jurisdiction over the matter, because the Government are offering to pay half the £5.9 million cost of policing. Given what the Minister has just said about peaceful protest, will he assure the House that every Government Department that has been in contact with the police over the policing of the climate camps has given absolute priority to the right of peaceful protest?

I can only repeat that the right of peaceful protest in this country is absolute. The hon. Gentleman mentioned people being charged and so on; 100 people were arrested and, of those, 46 were charged with offences ranging from obstruction and public order offences to possession of a bladed weapon. Of course, the Government will consider representations made to them, but as I say, I think that police have acted appropriately and proportionately in this case.