Sussex Police have released a statement further explaining its policing approach at Balcombe.
The Force has confirmed that the same strategic approach has been used throughout the weekend’s operation - with changes in tactics during the last 48 hours in response to different dynamics at the scene, not a planned change of policing style.
They have also specifically denied accusations that officers were purposefully ‘heavy-handed’ or used ‘kettles’, explaining why further arrests have been made today (Tuesday August 20) and were necessary yesterday when 29 people were detained.
Superintendent Lawrence Hobbs said: “We are policing a difficult operation very openly, responding to rapidly-changing dynamics and maintaining a neutral stance. We have continued our approach of facilitating peaceful protest and ensuring that lawful business can continue at the site, but we have made it quite clear from the outset that we would not tolerate criminal activity.
“Yesterday, there was a notable change in some protesters’ actions and intent, which required different policing tactics to be used in response. At times, it was necessary to remove people from a designated emergency access route who, despite repeated requests to move, refused to do so and some who were resistant to this.
“Our first and preferred tactic is to talk to people - officers have and will continue to go to great lengths to explain to people why we are there and what is acceptable in terms of their safety and others working in the area. When we police these kinds of demonstrations we will always try to negotiate an outcome first. We would much rather talk to people and persuade them to move than immediately move to make arrests.
“However, when we have to resort to physical action, there is a range of tactics that officers are trained to use. The use of pressure points is one that is proportionate and uses the minimum of force necessary. It is uncomfortable, it can be momentarily painful depending on how much the person resists, but it is instantly relieved when they co-operate and does not cause injury.
“When someone resists arrest, it is important for their safety and all those around them, including other protesters and officers, that their struggling does not lead to injury. Restraint can look very physical and, particularly if you’ve never seen it before, quite alarming. It is effective and I am not aware of any injuries that occurred yesterday, other than a minor one to a police officer who was bitten by a protester.”
Responding to specific claims that officers involved in one of the arrests were not wearing identification epaulettes, Supt Hobbs said: “I have seen the video footage of the arrest and it is clear that one of the officer’s epaulettes is missing. We have identified that officer and will be seeking full clarification of the circumstances leading to them not appearing to have clear identification.
“Our officers are instructed to wear insignia and identification at all times. This is mostly, though not exclusively, through epaulettes. Different styles are worn by other forces and some carry the officer’s number on a yellow tab. Officers are constantly monitored, photographed, videoed and challenged at these kind of demonstrations, so they are rightly aware of the expectations and I’m sure if their epaulettes or identification were not in place at any time, then it would be quickly drawn to our attention.
“The circumstances of every arrest have been rigorously recorded and we know which officers were involved in every one. If there are any complaints about any police action in connection with this operation, they will be fully investigated. That said, I have been heartened by the many messages of support about our overall policing style over the last few weeks, including from many local residents and some of the protesters themselves.”
Supt Hobbs dismissed suggestions of ‘kettling’ saying that protesters were free to leave the area in either direction along the road at any time. He said: “There is a Section 14 order in place along the road for 600m and at the entrances to the Cuadrilla site and an unconnected business park. This does not prevent free movement through the area, but a number of arrests were made yesterday of people who would not leave the area when legally directed to do so.”
Police have today seized a quantity of fireworks and drugs from an area of woodland close to the Cuadrilla site, where a number of people were involved in threatening a landowner who asked them to leave on Friday (August 16).
Three people have been arrested today, two for offences that happened during Monday’s protests and one in connection with the arrival of a lorry at the site on Tuesday.