MP attacks 'SAS-style' tactics used by police against environmental protesters

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The Independent Online

A Nottinghamshire MP has criticised police for using "SAS-style" tactics during an operation to arrest more than 100 environmental activists before they had even begun protesting.

Eco-campaigners and civil liberty groups have questioned the circumstances surrounding the mass arrests, thought to be the largest single pre-emptive raid on a group of demonstrators in British history.

Police used more than 200 officers from five forces to arrest 114 men and women in Sneinton, Nottinghamshire, early on Monday morning because they were allegedly preparing to cause "prolonged disruption" to the nearby Ratcliffe-on-Soar coal-fired power station.

Those arrested were found inside the privately owned Iona school, which was closed for the Easter break, and were charged with conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass and criminal damage.

Nottinghamshire Police have defended the raid, saying they believed the protesters intended to engage in an unlawful demonstration that risked shutting down the power plant. Officers found bolt-cutters and locking equipment and suspect that the activists were planning to chain themselves to vital equipment inside the power plant. All those arrested were released on bail yesterday pending further inquiries.

Alan Simpson, the Labour MP for Nottingham South, has questioned the nature of the pre-emptive strike, saying it had serious repercussions for the right to free assembly and had utilised overly heavy-handed tactics. "I am absolutely baffled by the sheer scale of the police operation," he said. "It was very Orwellian. What we saw was over-the-top, smash-and-grab, SAS-style, pre-emptive policing that was massively disproportionate to what was happening on the ground. The scale of policing was what you would expect to be used for a terrorist event or the break-up of a major crime syndicate, not to stop an environmental protest."

Mr Simpson also questioned why it was necessary to smash two double-glazed doors at the Iona school, which has now had to put in new doors and flooring. The school's owners said they had no idea protesters were meeting there. No environmental group has yet claimed responsibility for the planned protest. It is believed groups associated with the Climate Camp network were involved.

Police tactics when dealing with protests have been placed under heavy scrutiny in the past two weeks following the death of Ian Tomlinson during the G20 protests in London. Mr Tomlinson died of a heart attack shortly after apparently being hit and pushed to the ground by a baton-wielding riot officer. The Independent Police Complaints Commission is investigating.