Were police spies behind mass arrest of activists?

More than 100 people detained before power plant protest. Direct action group vows campaign will go on

Jerome Taylor
Tuesday 14 April 2009 00:00 BST

The Residents of Sneinton could have been forgiven for thinking that a mass jail-break had just occurred in their normally quiet red-brick suburb of Nottingham when they looked out of their windows in the early hours of yesterday morning.

Shortly after midnight more than 20 riot vans disgorged scores of police officers, backed by dogs, who charged into the car park of a privately owned school off Sneinton Dale, the main thoroughfare running through the suburb.

Over the next three hours police rounded up more than 100 people, bundling them en masse into the vans before eventually driving them down to police stations around the city.

But yesterday's dramatic raid was not sparked by a mass breakout or a terror alert. It was the latest in a long line of running battles between police and direct action climate change campaigners.

Except this time there was one startling difference. Police had finally managed to infiltrate a direct action group and for once actually knew where a protest would happen before it took place, prompting the first mass pre-emptive arrest of environmental campaigners.

Last night activists who specialise in direct action admitted that they might have been penetrated by police agents after years of running rings around law enforcement with bold publicity stunts and meticulously planned operations of their own.

"This is pretty much the first time that the police have been able to pre-empt a mass demonstration and it does raise the prospect that they have used spies," said one veteran activist. "As the anti-coal movement gathers momentum the police reaction seems to be getting stronger and more aggressive. The same thing happened with the anti-road movement in the 1990s."

Nottinghamshire Police have released few details about exactly what took place in the early hours of Monday morning other than to say that they arrested more than 100 people who were allegedly planning some form of direct action on the nearby Ratcliffe-on-Soar coal-fired power station.

A spokesman for the force said "specialist equipment" had been found in the school and that 114 people had been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass and criminal damage.

It is thought the demonstration was being organised by activists linked to the Climate Camp group, which organised the attempted blockade of Kingsnorth power station in Kent, where large groups of environmental activists were able to defy heavy security to stage publicity demonstrations against some of Britain's most polluting industries. Over the past 12 months direct action groups have stepped up their campaigns against the coal industry. In June last year, 29 protesters stopped a coal train from entering Drax power station in Yorkshire while last year's Climate Camp was held at Kingsnorth power station to highlight opposition to any increased use of fossil fuels.

Sources inside the environmentalist movement have told The Independent that Ratcliffe-on-Soar was being targeted because it is owned by Eon, the same energy company that is hoping to build a second generation coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth.

One activist, who asked not to be named, said: "This is all part of a wider movement against coal and Eon specifically. This protest may have been busted but there will be many more."

For many of the residents of Sneinton, the sheer number of police officers involved made many of them suspect that there was an anti-terrorism operation in their neighbourhood.

Mark Hill, 44, was walking back from town to his home near the school when he noticed a convoy of police cars and vans rush by.

"There were no sirens or anything," he said. "The first thing I thought was that it must be terrorism. I couldn't think of anything else that would need so many police. They brought people out from the school and put them into vans. I could hear them singing as they were led away but I don't know what they were saying."

Susan Lawson, 56, who lives opposite the school, said she had seen lots of people going in and out of the school over the weekend before the police arrived.

"Last night I heard car doors banging and I looked out and there were all the police – I have never seen so many police," she said. "I would say about 20 vans, plus cars. They had dogs with them as well. The vans kept coming back to pick up more of them."

Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station has been targeted by protesters before. In April 2007 the East Side Climate Action group managed to slip through the security cordon allowing activists to lock themselves to essential coal machinery and conveyor belts for five hours.

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