'The best thing the police could do is stay away'


The full text of Climate Camp's letter to the Met ahead of their protest next week - and the police response.

Dear Chief Superintendent Thomas,

On August 17th, you wrote to the Camp for Climate Action, requesting further information on the location of our next Camp, which will take place from August 27th to September 2nd, somewhere in the London area. You say that you require this information in order to help with "community liaison", to ensure the Camp is a "safe and healthy" event, and to help you put a "pre-planned and proportionate policing operation" in place. We are writing this open letter in order to alleviate your concerns, and to make our position clear both to yourself and to the public.

Community liaison has been a vital part of every Climate Camp. At Drax in 2006, Heathrow in 2007 and Kingsnorth in 2008, we put a lot of time and effort into spending time with local residents and allaying people's concerns, and this year will be no different. We have a good track record of building community support for the Camp and for climate change campaigning, we've already been in touch with local Councils across London, and our friendly outreach volunteers will be chatting to the locals from the moment we arrive on site. We plan to be excellent neighbours for as long as we're there, we'll be open and welcoming to any local residents with questions or concerns, and we'll leave the site spotless when it's time to go.

As regards health and safety - thanks for your concern, but again we've got it under control. As with previous Camps, we'll have great food, water, compost toilets, a team of medics, a wellbeing space, excellent on-site communication, emergency vehicle access, and a family space. We also have a "Safer Spaces" policy and a "Tranquillity Team" to help keep the site free from oppressive behaviour or aggro. Anyone who's spent time at past Camps will tell you how friendly and safe the atmosphere is - better than most mainstream festivals.

Of course, there is one unfortunate exception to all of this. While most visitors to previous Camps have had an inspiring and positive experience, some of us have had to suffer violence, intimidation, theft, sleep deprivation and harassment, thanks to past examples of "pre-planned and proportionate policing operations". Local communities have been disrupted by police road closures and indiscriminate stops-and-searches. Members of the public have been attacked with batons or arrested on trumped-up charges simply for standing on the perimeter of a campsite (nearly all of them have now been acquitted or had their charges dropped). Judging from past experience, the best thing the police could do to ensure the health and safety of the public at Climate Camp 2009 would be to stay as far away from it as possible.

Bearing all of this in mind, I hope that you, and the public, understand why we don't feel able to reveal the precise location of the Camp at this time. Every other aspect of the Camp has been organised in an open, accountable and democratic way, via monthly public meetings. The only secret is the location. There's a simple reason for this: I'm afraid we just don't trust the police. Why? Because it seems as though every time we have a protest, the police turn up and start hitting people. Look what happened at the G20. That's not really a very good way to win people over.

Just because you've started using friendlier language and talking about "lighter-touch" policing, do you really think we're suddenly going to believe you're our friends? Just a few weeks back the Big Green Gathering was shut down by the police on spurious grounds, for "political" reasons. If the police are really trying to build up trust within the climate action movement, then that's a funny way to go about it.

The precise location of the Camp for Climate Action 2009 will be announced via mass text as part of the exciting August 26th "Swoop". I'm afraid you'll just have to sign up on our website, climatecamp.org.uk, and wait for the updates just like everybody else!

Yours sincerely,

The Camp for Climate Action Media Team

Met response

"We strongly believe that whatever the motivation behind the decision it is highly irresponsible of the Camp for Climate Action not to inform either the Local Authority or police of the location, or at least the intended borough. The MPS is very disappointed with the response it has had, not only because of some of the unhelpful comments in the letter but also because Climate Camp, while expecting the police to enter complete dialogue in the spirit of 'no surprises' as recommended by the HMIC and JCHR, are un-willing to reciprocate.

We have asked for the location, or even just the borough it will take place in. Our concerns about not knowing the location of the camp are simple. Without advance knowledge it is impossible for us to liaise with a local authority, or local community as we don't know who to liaise with. The police cannot undertake a community impact assessment or calculate the crime risks faced by prospective campers. This is more important than ever before, given on this occasion the camp may be held in a densely populated urban area. For us not to ask for the location would be negligent given our duty to provide a proportionate policing response to protest and minimise the impact on Londoners who wish to go about their business as normal.

Having policed two Climate Camps we have learnt from each operation and will continue to build that learning into this police response. Officers running the policing operation for the camp have had a number of meetings with representatives to build better dialogue between us. We have been able to take on board concerns from camp representatives, and have outlined our policing strategy and tactics. We hope this dialogue will continue, and improve, during the camp."


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