Demonstrating Respect for Rights? Follow-up - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents


Supplementary memorandum submitted by Dr Peter Harbour

1.  PREAMBLE

  In evidence statement [1], 15 December 2008, I described my experience with an injunction (Radley Lakes injunction by RWE npower) served, using the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. This injunction stifled legitimate protest.

  I suggested there should be a first hearing, either with the police or with a lower court, before a case under the PfH act 1997 be brought to the High Court. The aim was to avoid, in the first instance, the crippling cost (or fear of costs) which prevent justice from being done at present. The injunction was heard in secret, without notification, using anonymous witnesses.

  The Committee's response was [2]

    99. …we are concerned that the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (… not designed to deal with protestors …) has the potential for overbroad and disproportionate application. We do not consider that…there is any pressing need for applications against protestors to be made without providing the possibility for protestors to make representations on the proposed injunction. … given the potential risk of substantial costs …

    100. We recommend that …applications for injunctions relating to protest activities may not be made without notice being given to any individuals or organisations named on the application…ensuring that injunctions against protestors are necessary and proportionate within the context of the rights to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly.

  While the Committee's recommendations, if adopted by the government, reduce problems of legitimate protestors, they do not go far enough. Interestingly, however, they open a way in law to make it clear that there is a legal distinction between protestors and stalkers. The PfH Act 1997 was designed to deal with stalkers, not protestors. I will argue that the Act should be redrafted to focus on its original purpose.

  Protestors should, if necessary, be dealt with under other existing laws, which are restrictive enough. Violent and intimidatory protest contravenes several laws, so it is doubtful whether the PfH Act 1997 is needed at all to control protest. Even so, companies use the act to stifle legitimate protest.

  During the six months since my memorandum [1] a number of events has taken place, strengthening this argument.

2.  RECENT DEVELOPMENTS

  17:12:2008:  Power company, RWE npower announced it no longer needs Thrupp Lake for ash disposal. The lake is saved, due to adoption of an alternative, sought by the Save Radley Lakes campaign, an endorsement of a legitimate campaign, if ever there was one.

  23:12:2008:  George Monbiot examines claims by NETCU (see [1]) that I am a domestic extremist, concluding the police demonise peaceful protest [3].

  23:12:2008:  NETCU website is "closed for maintenance until the New Year." It re-opened 22nd May, q.v.

  13:1:2009:  RWE npower injunction is ended. A consent order is sealed by the Court. The proceedings against me have ended. The injunction is discharged.

  13:2:2009:  Monbiot confirms NETCU's website shut down immediately after [3] was published, later being partially restored. The "Confidential Intelligence Unit" will continue NETCU's role, demonising peaceful protest [4].

  7:5:2009:  BBC Radio 4 describes my story [5]. Assistant Chief Constable Anton Setchell claims that although my name is on the NETCU website it doesn't necessarily mean I am considered a domestic extremist. "I could understand the concern about someone having their name there but I don't think their character would be tarnished because of it" (but see contradiction in next item). Note: BBC Panorama will follow this up later in June.

  22:5:2009:  NETCU website restored, now featuring the police pocket guide [6] referred to in [1]. The booklet retains the sentence, p.51, "High Court Injunctions that relate to domestic extremism campaigns are listed on the NETCU website. www.netcu.org.uk", which had been identified [1,3] as branding me and the Save Radley Lakes campaign as "domestic extremist".

3.  FURTHER DETAILS

  When I submitted my evidence [1] the injunction upon me was still in place but negotiations were underway to end it. I was inhibited from making any statement which might have prejudiced these.

  I can now state that it was (without notification) alleged in the High Court by anonymous absent witnesses, who were allowed by the court to remain anonymous, that I assaulted a security guard by driving my van into him, a criminal accusation of an event alleged to have taken place at half past midnight. I assert that this did not happen. At 12.30am I had been at my computer for over an hour sending emails and I continued at my computer for the next hour. There is detailed documentation that the allegation was incorrect, and a credible witness supports this. Notwithstanding, this allegation was not merely made when the injunction was first brought to court in February 2007, but in April 2007 the evidence was relayed uncritically (from npower's security staff) to the Court by a Chief Inspector of Thames Valley Police, Silver Commander for the Radley Lakes protest [7]. His action was justified by TVP's Chief Constable, (letter dated 21.05.07):

    "…The judgement states 'there is reason to believe drove his car (sic) at two employees of the First Claimant's contractors…'".

  She went on to write

    "In relation to the deposition by Chief Inspector (name given) in relation to this incident, its affect on the application was merely to confirm that this incident, along with a number of others, had been reported to the police…"

  But please read a contradictory statement in [8].

  The chief constable continued…

    "In terms of redress for Peter Harbour, paragraph 10 of the application submitted by Npower states that 'The parties and any other person affected by this Order may apply to the Court at any time to vary or discharge this Order …' This would appear to offer a way forward for Peter, in terms of taking steps to negotiate his removal from the injunction."

4.  SUMMARY OF FURTHER DETAILS WITH COMMENTS

    — In a civil court I was accused, without notification, and anonymously, of a criminal assault, which did not occur, using my vehicle.

    — The PfH Act 1997 allows an accusation to be so made, and this is wrong, bringing the law into disrepute.

    — Senior police endorse the accusation, despite official records showing no evidence that such an event occurred, and despite the duty of the Silver Commander to provide impartial policing and to facilitate normal protest.

    — The Chief Constable appears content with this, not querying lack of balance in policing.

  In fact the Chief Constable compounded the situation, saying there was a way forward for me to take steps to remove myself from the injunction. I say this because she seems blissfully unaware that, had I moved to contest the evidence, this would have triggered my being exposed to fearsome costs and that these costs might be at a multiple because several of the defendants were applying for legal aid [9].

5.  CONCLUSION

    — Under the PfH Act 1997 it is demonstrated that an injunction can be obtained, stifling legitimate protest, on the basis (inter alia) of an incorrect criminal accusation, and that the police, in court, can support such an accusation by hearsay, despite it contradicting their official records, and without investigating the facts of the case. Police action can further compound the situation by branding the protestors "domestic extremists", in a manner which on the face of it appears defamatory.

    — This committee has distinguished protestors from stalkers, the intended subject of the PfH Act 1997, and this prepares for the following way forward.

    — The Act should be retained exclusively for dealing with stalkers and be redrafted so it cannot be used (or misused) against protestors, whose actions can be scrutinised in the light of other laws.

    — Policing of protest appears to have been neither balanced, nor proportionate.

REFERENCES

[1]  Memorandum submitted by Dr Peter Harbour, www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt200809/jtselect/jtrights/47/47we33.htm£n48

[2]  Paragraphs 96-100 of www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt200809/jtselect/jtrights/47/4707.htm£n165

[3]  www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/dec/23/activists-conservation-police

[4]  www.guardian.co.uk/environment/georgemonbiot/2009/feb/13/george-monbiot-police-protestors . See also Henry Porter in www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/henryporter/2009/feb/10/police-civil-liberties

[5]  The Report, BBC Radio 4, 8 pm 07.05.09, The Policing of Protest www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/console/b00k4g57

[6]  www.netcu.org.uk/downloads/guidance/PPocketguide.pdf

[7]  I reported in [1] that the first duty of this Silver Commander was "to provide impartial policing services that facilitate lawful protest", and yet in April 2007 he had provided no service to the Save Radley Lakes group at all, not even introducing himself. I ask the committee to decide whether the service was "impartial" or whether he appeared to be acting for a large company.

[8]  I received a letter from Thames Valley Police Accident Records (2.04.07) stating "A search of police accident records has failed to trace the collision to which you refer … for the dates 10 February-12 February 2007."

[9]  I recollect that, before granting legal aid, the board asked (unsuccessfully) the Save Radley Lakes campaign to pay costs of those seeking support, even though the other defendants (excluding me) did not live locally and were not members of the campaign.








 
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