Sunday, October 15, 2006

Protesters meet with Police

Yesterday, a number of the landfill protesters met with Inspector Paul Firth, who is responsible for policing at the Quarry. This was part of a longer meeting which took place at Martyn Jones' constituency office in Johnstown; the first part of the meeting was with Insp. Firth, the second part was with Martyn Jones MP and Karen Sinclair AM (report to follow).

The only picture I could find of Inspector Paul Firth is copyright, but you can view it here. This web site includes an email link if you need to contact Inspector Firth.

The meeting kicked off with a discussion between Inspector Paul Firth and the campaigners. During a sometimes heated exchange, people expressed their concerns about the policing at Hafod, with most of the issues being about the attitude of officers policing the protest, and instances where people felt officers had overstepped the mark, been disrespectful, aggressive or intimidating etc. One or two incidents have resulted in complaints being made. The discussion didn't get off to a good start, with Inspector Firth often interrupting people who were trying to put their views across, but during the course of the meeting, people did get to say what they thought and the atmosphere gradually calmed down. The Inspector explained how policing at the site at the beginning of the protests was carried out by officers on overtime from across North Wales, whereas now only local officers were involved. He felt that this had improved police/protester relations, but agreed to address the ongoing concerns raised by the protesters, which included some issues about the attitude of certain officers, the need for officers to be seen to be even-handed and the need to follow up traffic offences committed by wagon drivers.

There was some discussion about the difference between what Inspector Firth called peaceful protest and other sorts. Some of the complaints about policing have arisen when protesters have not done exactly what the police have told them to do, at which point officers sometimes become aggressive and angry very quickly. Some protesters expressed very strong feelings, including one who said: "I never understood why people called the police 'pigs' until this protest began, but after the way I've been treated, I can see why." Obviously, it is not good for the police or for local residents if public confidence in the police force is destroyed, and Inspector Firth expressed his wish to ensure that this did not happen. It was suggested that officers could look at the example of Faslane in Scotland, where regular protests take place against the Trident submarine base, including direct action such as blockading, but where the police have nevertheless managed to maintain a good relationship with protesters by behaving (including carrying out arrests) in a calm and respectful manner, and generally ensuring that the wellbeing of the protesters is given due attention. The Hafod campaigners stressed that they did not have an issue with the police per se - the protest is about landfill - but they do expect to be treated properly.

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