The eviction of New Hope anti-fracking camp shows the blurry line between policing and private security

In case you missed it: early this morning, a mob of dog-wielding bailiffs stormed the Camp of New Hope at Preston New Road, evicting frontline anti-fracking activists from what, for some, had been their home for 3 years. The eviction was planned and executed with the supervision of Lancashire police, and, as Freedom reported earlier today, officers present could barely contain their glee at the misery of the now homeless activists. While this may be shocking to some people, frontline anti-frackers have come to expect little else from Lancashire’s finest.

The policing of anti-fracking protest – especially at Preston New Road – has repeatedly come under fire for its heavy handedness and the regularity with which officers use disproportionate force. A study published earlier this month by researchers at Liverpool John Moore’s University found that anti-fracking protestors have experienced daily violence and intimidation from police officers, sometimes resulting in (serious) physical injury and psychological trauma.

That such routine violence takes place against a backdrop of widespread public disapproval of fracking has led some to argue that the cops are acting as little more than publicly funded goons for an industry that would otherwise struggle to operate in the UK. A report by the National Audit Office released in October of this year revealed that – between January 2017 and June 2019 – the policing operation at Preston New Road cost Lancashire Constabulary £11.8 million. This – it could be argued – is a distinctively neoliberal policing operation, one in which the coercive power of the state is explicitly used to facilitate private profiteering, with the public footing the bill.  However, given the origins and development of the police – both in the UK and elsewhere – one might question whether, in their response to anti-fracking protest, the police aren’t just fulfilling their historic role; namely, as the ultimate guarantors of the social order that white supremacist capitalism requires in order to function (whether that be in the form of slave patrols or the violent crushing of strikes).

What we see in the eviction of the Camp of New Hope, however, is not so much ‘publicisation’ of private security but what, on the surface, appears to be its contrary: the privatisation of policing. That is to say: private companies taking on roles that were once performed by the police. Able Investigations and Enforcement – the firm that provided the majority of the bailiffs used in today’s eviction – are one such firm, explicitly selling themselves on the grounds that the police are no longer able to offer adequate protection for private property:

“We recognise the requirement and need for these Public Order Enforcement Teams, especially today with police budgets being cut and resource levels constantly under pressure. Today, the police are not there to carry out evictions on private land, they only assist to ensure that no breach of the peace is created on either side.”

That a private company conceives of itself as being involved in the ‘enforcement’ of public order should be cause for concern for any right-thinking person. However, Able Investigations go further in their blurring of the line between policing and private security. One of the company’s ‘unique selling points’ is that their ‘Public Order Enforcement Teams’ (which – I kid you not – they refer to as POETS) receive Level 3 Police Tactical Support Unit Training, delivered by a ‘very experienced’ retired cop in accordance with the official manual. What’s more, Able’s promotional material proudly displays their operatives wielding rectangular Perspex shields of the sort more commonly seen in the hands of the Met’s infamous Territorial Support Group. The fact that the police don’t entrust such ‘personal protective equipment’ to officers who have only undergone Level 3 PTSU training might make you wonder whether it’s good idea that they’re handed out to bailiffs who have merely ‘done a course’.

The other firm involved in the eviction – Specialist Group International – are also heavily imbricated with the executive arm of the British state. Founded by former paratrooper Peter ‘the Human Mole’ Faulding, SGI has been involved in the business of ‘protestor removal’ since the Newbury Bypass protests in 1995, during the course of which Faulding used his considerable experience of search and rescue operations to ‘safely’ remove protestors – including the infamous Daniel Hooper aka ‘Swampy’ – from tunnels. These days SGI are the number one company in the UK for ‘specialist’ evictions that require the removal of trespassers from tunnels or high places, and their website proudly displays a list of protests they’ve helped to break up, including those at Kingsnorth Power plant, Climate Camp and, most recently, Leith Hill anti-fracking camp. In recognition of his expertise in this area, Faulding was invited to sit on the Home Office’s ‘Policing Environmental Protest’ working group, as well as being called on to advise the US secret service, the FBI and other national police forces (though not necessarily about ‘protestor removal’)

It’s worth highlighting that none of this is private information. All of it is freely available on the SGI website; because this is how companies like SGI or Able Investigations sell their services.

From this perspective, we can see today’s eviction – and the struggle against fracking more generally – as reflecting a wider socio-economic trend: namely, the expanding zone of indistinction between the police on one hand, and private companies on the other; between public order and private security.

Indeed, this is a trend that is set to continue. As discussed in my last column: the Tories are looking to criminalise trespass on land with intent to reside, something that would hand the police powers to immediately evict and arrest anyone who erects a protest camp on private land. If this or other proposed ‘reforms’ of the CJPOA 1994 find their way onto the statute books, we can expect to see the police and bailiffs much more frequently uniting as one fist.

Carl Spender


Photo kind donated from this livestream