A sinister weapons cache – or useful camping gear?

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The Independent Online

One side claims they are "sinister" weapons intended to attack police officers, horses and dogs. The other says they are nothing more dangerous than kitchen utensils, to be used for cutting up vegetables. The confrontations between the police and protesters at the climate camp in Kent continued yesterday, after officers paraded knives and other weapons which they said had been confiscated and found around the camp near Kingsnorth power station.

It started late on Monday night when police found a stash of weapons that included an assortment of knives, a pointed throwing star, shields and chains hidden in trees and undergrowth around the site.

Yesterday morning officers revealed their find to the media. Standing in front of a table of confiscated items, Assistant Chief Constable Gary Beautridge said: "There is no justification whatsoever for having these weapons. I would suggest that a minority of people had hidden them with the intention of causing harm to police officers, and possibly to the horses or dogs that we are using on patrol. And if you look at the equipment we have seized, it is clear the plan was to use these items for criminal purposes."

The protesters hit back immediately, with organisers accusing the police of conducting a "smear" campaign. They said that the knives found were purely for preparing vegetables at the camp.

A spokesman said: "These claims made by police are ridiculous. We're eating food at the camp, what do the police think we are cutting up our potatoes with? One wonders if Assistant Chief Constable Gary Beautridge will be raiding his own kitchen."

The protesters also pointed out that other items confiscated included a board game and wax crayons. Isabelle Michel, one of the campaigners on the site, said: "Yesterday we were disappointed with the police, now we are disgusted.

"We have seen a really high level of political policing. They are confiscating things we need to use on the camp, such as wood for the toilets and pipes for running water, it's ridiculous. You name it; the boys in blue have taken it from us. It's a blatant campaign they have been using to put people off coming here because there is reluctance among the authorities to allow us to have a real discussion on climate change."

Police, however, say that while they believe the majority of protesters who have gathered at the Camp for Climate Action site are law-abiding, they think that about 150 of the 1,000 expected to have gathered by the end of the week had more "sinister" intentions.

Mr Beautridge added: "We are very, very worried about the intentions of a number of hardcore protesters, which we believe are around 150, who are committed to using criminal means to achieve their aims." Yesterday's war of words followed confrontations between police and the protesters on Monday. Riot police had entered the field at 5.30am at the start of the week and were confronted by angry protesters. Later in the day there were 12 arrests as protesters and police clashed outside the entrance to the site near the power station. The campaigners have accused the police of being "heavy-handed".