It was at Barton Moss in February 2014, after months of harassment of protesters by the Greater Manchester Police Tactical Aid Unit (TAU), when human rights solicitor Simon Pook decided to call in the United Nations.
A woman was handcuffed and dragged through a field by the TAU, and lay on the floor for 45 minutes before an ambulance arrived. Witness Diane told the Salford Star at the time "They were just hitting everybody. It was chaos…horrendous…"
That day, Greater Manchester's riot police were literally running riot at Barton Moss (for full story click here).... "What I have witnessed today at Barton Moss has confirmed my greatest fear" Pook told the Salford Star at the time "...A fear that Greater Manchester Police appear to have discarded the European Convention of Human Rights into the gutter, and replaced it with political policing, re-enforced with overt aggression."
The Salford Star could not witness this event first hand because the police had sealed off the road but a month later, the same woman, Wanda, was targeted again, this time in front of the press and Happy Mondays' celeb Bez... "It's a disgrace" he told the Salford Star "A peaceful protest and… to arrest someone, smashing their head on the floor is not right is it? Especially a woman…" (see here)
These were just two very high profile incidents within months of protests against fracking in Salford. But almost every day there were complaints about police harassment and unfair, unprovoked arrests that led to the majority of charges being dropped in court or the defendants found 'not guilty'.
All the while, the Salford City Mayor and all councillors in the city remained silent – and it later emerged that the Mayor and Council were actually helping to direct the policing (see here).
There were calls for an independent inquiry into the policing. Instead the Greater Manchester Police Commissioner, Tony Lloyd, formed an Independent Panel which concluded "Claims of police violence have not been substantiated". It was labelled a 'whitewash' (see here).
In spring last year, a report called Keep Moving! by researchers from John Moores University in Liverpool and the University of York, catalogued a whole series of police indiscretions and the 'dubious legality' of arrests (see Salford Star print issue 11).
Now the conclusions of that report have been cited by the United Nations Special Rapporteur, Maina Kiai, in a new report of 'instances of use of excessive force by police against protesters'...
"One emblematic case which was brought to his attention was the violent action and harassment by the Greater Manchester Police against protesters at Barton Moss Camp, Salford, Greater Manchester, from November 2013 to April 2014" he states
"It is reported that Greater Manchester Police frequently pushed and shoved peaceful, protesters, stood on their heels, dug their knuckles in their backs, pushed them down the road and verbally harassed them" he adds "Police officers also targeted a number of protesters – including young, elderly and disabled people – for allegedly triggering a 'violent response' from fellow demonstrators.
"Even more disturbing, male police officers reportedly engaged in sexual harassment with female protesters, inter alia insulting them, groping their private parts, and pressing their genitals against them while walking in a line" he writes "As a result, many female protesters felt frightened and violated. Unnecessary strip searches were also allegedly performed. The Special Rapporteur finds these practices shameful and totally unacceptable."
Greater Manchester Police is also criticised in the United Nations report for failing to wear identification during protests...
"...Intrinsically linked to the question of excessive use of force and sexual harassment is the issue of accountability and, more precisely, the identification of alleged perpetrators" states the report "In his 2013 mission report the Special Rapporteur recommended law enforcement officers wear identification badges at all times.
"However in the course of his follow up mission, he was informed that, on a number of occasions, police officers have failed to wear visible identification while policing protests, in particular Greater Manchester Police" it adds "The Special Rapporteur notes the statement from the Chief Superintendent at Scotland Yard that there have been problems of police identification in a number of protests, and that he takes this issue seriously, holding supervisors accountable for police officers failing to abide."
As well as the policing of the Barton Moss protests, the United Nations report also slams the UK Government for its anti-trade union laws, undercover policing, the Investigatory Power Act and general restrictions on protests, including the practice of 'kettling'...
"Many people around the world look to the United Kingdom as a model for democracy and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms" the report concludes "They notice when this country takes positive steps to strengthen its practice in this area. However, they notice even more when it moves in the opposite direction."
Human rights solicitor, Simon Pook, welcomed the United Nations report..."At the time of Barton Moss I advised that I, along with independent Legal Observers, was gathering evidence on the policing tactics and the Government response to the right to peaceful protest and freedom of expression" he said "It was reported in Salford Star that the findings would be presented to the United Nations.
"There has been a previous independent report on policing of Barton Moss by John Moore and York Universities, Will Jackson and Joanne Gilmorton" he added "This is the second independent report and both reports make difficult reading about how GMP discharged its duty to peaceful protest and freedom of assembly.
"The only report to find the policing had no case to answer was that overseen by Tony Lloyd the then Police and Crime Commissioner" he explained "The United Nations report is particularly important as it holds the Government to account for the policing at Barton Moss.
"The role of Independent Legal Observers is key role in a civil society and the state must continue recognise the importance of their role" he insisted "Local police forces must also allow them to observe their officers actions. I welcome the report and its recommendations in regards to policing peaceful protest. It is clear that the policing at Barton Moss must never be repeated; if it is repeated then the police and the state must be held to account via the judicial process..."
Meanwhile, at Preston New Road, where Fylde anti-fracking demonstrations happen every day, there have been more complaints of 'excessive policing'...
Main photo by Steven Speed