Sussex Police accused of ‘bugging’ at protests

Balcombe Fracking protest Saturday 27.07.13 ENGSUS00120130729104747
Balcombe Fracking protest Saturday 27.07.13 ENGSUS00120130729104747

Sussex Police may have used ‘electronic bugging’ or ‘undercover officers’ to gain intelligence from fracking protesters at Balcombe last year, a law firm has said.

A police review of last summer’s anti-fracking protests was published this week following a request made under the Freedom of Information Act.

Redacted information within the report - which is blacked out but can still be read - reveals police used ‘covert means’, and ‘a range of intelligence sources’ were being harnessed during the protest last August.

It reads: “Once the operation moved into August it was apparent that an appropriate range of intelligence sources were being harnessed, including where appropriate ECHR (European Court of Human Rights) compliant covert means.”

The information is covered by a black line in the report - but can be viewed if the text colour is changed.

Law firm Leigh Day, who are attempting to prevent fracking at Balcombe through the High Court, have condemned police.

Ugo Hayter of Leigh Day said: “If it is correct that the police were using covert means, such as electronic bugging or undercover officers, this is deeply concerning.

“Such seemingly excessive and intrusive police surveillance of this kind only serves to undermine our democracy and is a further erosion of peoples lawful right to protest.

“We aim to investigate this matter and ensure that data has not been collected and/or retained by Sussex Police unlawfully.”

Assistant chief constable Steve Barry of Sussex Police said: “We disclosed the information in good faith and had made minor redactions.

“The reference to covert tactics is generic and does not compromise the operational effectiveness of our plans.

“We have a responsibility to gather intelligence to assess risk and build plans to keep people safe. Covert tactics are legitimate and necessary and whilst we can’t disclose specific details the methodology of these tactics is well publicised.

“Where authorities are required these are ECHR/human rights compliant and all materials are handled in accordance with investigatory regulations.”

The report also states that police liaison officers had met with protest organisers and believed the protest would escalate on July 25.

But police did not ‘properly anticipate the escalation’ that occurred on that day, the report added.