Police chiefs have been criticised after they have repeatedly delayed completing an official review of the way they handle UK anti-fracking protests.
Senior officers promised to launch the review into tactics two years ago amid complaints that police had often used excessive force against campaigners who protested against fracking firms.
The police had set four deadlines for completing the review, but missed them all. An email shows that the senior officer in charge of the review admitted that he did not realise that it would require so much work.
The repeated delays have come to light after environmental investigative website DeSmog obtained correspondence between a senior police officer and the Green MEP Keith Taylor.
In recent years, protesters have complained of heavy-handed policing, prompting Taylor to say it was shocking that apparently peaceful protesters had suffered violence while exercising their democratic freedoms.
There have been sustained demonstrations against fracking, which has low public support, according to government polling.
The Network for Police Monitoring, a civil liberties group, said in a 2017 report that it had seen evidence of “police officers pushing people into hedges, knocking campaigners unconscious, violently dragging older people across the road and shoving others into speeding traffic”.
The group has alleged that “police tactics appear deliberately intent on making it as difficult as possible for local people to effectively oppose the activities of the onshore oil and gas industry”.
In January 2017, the National Police Chiefs’ Council agreed to review the guidance that it had issued to forces on how to police anti-fracking protests.
Terry Woods, the Lancashire assistant chief constable, is in charge of the review as he is the senior officer responsible for policing anti-fracking demonstrations.
One email from October 2017 shows that Woods said he intended to canvas opinions and complete the review by January 2018. Another deadline was missed in April 2018.
In another email in September 2018, Woods said: “If I’m being honest, I had not realised the scale of work required to undertake a police college-endorsed and -led consultation process.”
Another deadline went by in October 2018.
Police now estimate that the review will be finished by “summer 2019 at the earliest” and that it had been expanded to examine “long-term protest generally” as well as the anti-fracking demonstrations.
Taylor, who has campaigned on the issue for a number of years and has been discussing the review with Woods, told DeSmog there had been a “series of missed opportunities and broken pledges” about the review. “Prevarication is one thing the police have been shown to be very good at,” he added.
In a statement, Woods said: “Work to update the police guidance has been comprehensive and ongoing. While there have been delays in publication due to a widening of the focus of the guidance as well as capacity and competing demands on subject matter experts, substantial work has taken place and the guidance is now undergoing final checks.
“Following consideration by the College of Policing professional committee, the guidance will undergo public consultation and dates will be announced to allow interested parties to engage and shape the final guidance.”
Kevin Blowe, Netpol’s coordinator, said it was “a classic example of the police dragging their feet”.
Evidence aired in a legal case showed that a secretive police unit had privately advised the fracking industry to seek injunctions against campaigners through the civil courts if it believed that it had enough evidence to secure them.
Environmental campaigners have resisted the injunctions, which they condemned as “draconian and anti-democratic”.