Demonstrating respect for rights? A human rights approach to policing protest - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by Yorkshire Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament


  In response to the call for evidence for the Joint Committee on Human Rights inquiry into the human rights issues arising from policing and protest, Yorkshire Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) has prepared the following body of evidence.

  Yorkshire CND's campaigning initiatives against the US Missile Defence programme within the Yorkshire region focus on the two key bases linked to US Missile Defence; Menwith Hill and RAF Fylingdales. Both bases are situated in North Yorkshire and are policed by both the North Yorkshire Police and the Ministry of Defence Police Agency.

  The evidence aims to present a clear analysis of the US Missile Defence programme and CND's opposition to it in order to accurately demonstrate the increasingly intolerant levels of policing faced by campaigners at these bases.

  The evidence focuses on examples of policing at Menwith Hill, the location of the most regular visible protests. Menwith Hill is located between Harrogate and Skipton, on the A59 road and whilst still in a rural setting, is located on the busier thoroughfare of the two bases.

  Sites of protest at Menwith Hill generally include the front gates, not visible from the main road and a large lay-by opposite the base on the A59. Both Police agencies patrol and monitor demonstrations at these sites.

  The introduction of SOCPA 2005 legislation has invoked a marked difference in policing at the bases. The right to walk around Menwith Hill without fear of apprehension has been severely curtailed, even during organised demonstrations. (Fylingdales is marked by ancient bridleways, but is still difficult to walk around without being stopped.) The legislation is designed to apply to the site, but the use of Stop and Search powers is being used in the entire vicinity of the perimeter of the base, at seemingly varied discretion.

  Large barriers outside the main gate are used to "pen" peace protestors in and are often combined with intrusive photography and filming by both police agencies. Yorkshire CND argues that these measures are nothing but intimidating. For what purpose would a protestor with "something to hide" willingly and compliantly join a demonstration at the biggest electronic monitoring station in the world?

  Current limits to the rights to protest at bases such as Menwith Hill are designed to protect facilities operating solely in the economic and military interests of the US, and if not challenged will only get worse. If sections of SOCPA are to be repealed to allow protest around Parliament, then by the same token so must the sections applying to bases such as Menwith Hill. It is in the public interest to witness and have the opportunity to join lawful, peaceful protest and democratically hold the government's actions to account.

  The right to peaceful protest must be upheld, and the police agencies involved must actively engage with campaigners to facilitate that right. Currently North Yorkshire Police and the Ministry of Defence Police Association can "pass the buck" to each other for decisions made to limit protest. Any limitations on public peaceful protest must become transparent and accountable.

  The work of peaceful campaigning organisations and networks such as CND have been crucial in upholding the long-fought right to protest that has ensured social change globally and throughout history. By increasing public awareness and support and holding the government to account, change can be achieved for the benefit of the majority.

  If the current limitations and penalties for protestors are upheld and expanded, as is no doubt the objective, how will any citizen have an opportunity to portray their views on any issue?

  Yorkshire CND welcomes the opportunity to submit this evidence to the Committee.


1.1  Yorkshire CND

  Yorkshire Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) is a campaigning organisation with members and supporters based across the Yorkshire and Humberside region. Yorkshire CND is an autonomous organisation working alongside and affiliated to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. CND has been at the forefront of anti-nuclear and peace campaigning for the past 50 years.

  1.2  Yorkshire CND has been researching and documenting issues relating to US Missile Defence for over 20 years. Yorkshire CND's Convenor, Professor Dave Webb is a leading British expert on US Missile Defence and has contributed to numerous articles, journals and lectures on Britain's role in the programme. In June 2007, Professor Webb joined panel of experts at a hearing on "Does Europe Need an Anti-Missile Defence Shield?" at the European Parliament.

  1.3  Yorkshire CND Committee members Helen John and Sylvia Boyes were the first campaigners to be charged under Section 128 of the Serious and Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCPA).

  Both women were found guilty of criminal trespass after walking into Menwith Hill wearing peace placards on April 1st 2006. John is currently preparing to appeal this ruling.

  1.4  Yorkshire CND has a broad history of organising and supporting campaign initiatives such as demonstrations, peace camps, vigils and non-violent direct action events—many in liaison with the police, to highlight concerns and increase public support.

1.5  US Missile Defence

  Since former President Reagan announced the "Star Wars" or Strategic Defence Initiative in 1983, over $120 billion has been spent on US Missile Defence.[197]

  The US Missile Defence Agency (MDA), describes Missile Defence as:

    "an integrated, layered, ballistic missile defense system to defend the United States, its deployed forces, allies, and friends against all ranges of enemy ballistic missiles in all phases of flight."[198]

  1.6  The US Administration claim the system operates in a global capacity to defend the territories of the United States. A network of ground, air, sea and space based facilities operate across the globe to launch detect, track and target ballistic attack. These include a system of ground based radar stations, including the Ballistic Missile Early Warning Radar station at RAF Fylingdales, North Yorkshire; recently upgraded to US requirements for Missile Defence.

  1.7  Another component (the European Ground Based Relay Station for the Space Based Infra Red System) is situated at Menwith Hill, also in North Yorkshire. Menwith Hill intercepts electronic signals and communications (SIGINT) solely for US military intelligence through the US National Security Agency (NSA).

  1.8  Missile Defence includes missile interceptors, currently operational in two locations in the United States, with further site proposals in Europe.

  These facilities form part of a larger worldwide US military communications, command and control network known as Strategic Command (STRATCOM). In Omaha Nebraska, STRATCOM is responsible for US global military operations involving nuclear and conventional weapons based on land, at sea, in the air and space. STRATCOM describes itself as:

    "a global integrator charged with the missions of full-spectrum global strike, space operations, computer network operations, Department of Defense information operations, strategic warning, integrated missile defense, global C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance), combating weapons of mass destruction, and specialized expertise to the joint warfighter|."[199]

  1.9  US Missile Defence is designed to help provide the US with a prompt global strike capability[200]. A 2000 US Air Force planning document states that a long-term goal of the U.S. military is to:

    "enable an affordable capability to swiftly and effectively deliver highly effective weapons against targets at any required global location" in order to "affordably destroy or neutralize any target on earth.|"[201]

  Working with offensive weapons systems protecting US troops, bases and other US "strategic assets" globally, a core goal of US Missile Defence is to make threats of force, including nuclear, more credible.

  1.10  SOCPA legislation applies to Fylingdales and Menwith Hill.

1.11  The Campaign against US Missile Defence

  US Missile Defence is not a "defensive" programme. Its aims and operational features are open to challenge.

    1. Purpose.

    A White House report, October 2007 states:

    "America faces a growing ballistic missile threat. In 1972 just nine countries had ballistic missiles. Today, that number has grown to 27 and it includes hostile regimes with ties to terrorists."[202]

    Despite strong evidence from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that the Iranian government has no plausible nuclear military capabilities, the US still present a perceived ballistic missile strike from Iran as a core justification for the programme.

    2. Military accuracy.

    The success of Missile Defence as a defensive system is limited.

    "Shooting down an enemy missile is like trying to hit a hole-in-one in golf when the hole is moving at 17,000 mph. And if an enemy uses decoys and counter measures, missile defence is like trying to hit a hole-in-one| and the green is covered in black circles the same size as the hole."[203]

  The costs and technology of the programme have been consistently undermined by failures in testing.

  1.12  Reviewed as an aggressive system, the funding and support from the White House make more sense. Missile Defence shores up the US's first strike ballistic capabilities.

  Advancement of US Missile Defence has been at the expense of international treaties[204] and the proposed development of the programme in Europe has sparked serious tensions with Russia.

  1.13  As an organisation campaigning for the abolition of all nuclear weapons, working towards global sustainable peace initiatives, Yorkshire CND reject the "defensive" aims of the programme, believing that the true aims are to secure US military dominance to facilitate US economic advantages, including access to and control of energy resources. We support clear evidence[205] that the development of the programme in Europe compromises security within the region to support US military objectives.

1.14  Menwith Hill

  Yorkshire CND campaigns at US Missile Defence bases in Yorkshire, opposing their existence and operations and the lack of British accountability.

  1.15  Stop and Search and anti-terrorism legislation has been used to intimidate and harass protestors who wish to publicly, peacefully and lawfully demonstrate their opposition to the bases.

  1.16  Anti-terrorism legislation such as SOCPA 2005, protecting facilities operating exclusively in the interests of US military objectives is fundamentally flawed and has been rightly challenged by committed individuals.

  Yorkshire CND support a basic right of all citizens to peacefully challenge and dispute actions taken by any government—especially those seen to reduce the security of the public and undermine the accountability of British democracy; such as protesting at Menwith Hill.

  1.17  Helen John and Sylvia Boyes walked 15ft into Menwith Hill on 1 April 2006, the day Section 128 of SOCPA came into force criminalising trespass at designated sites across Britain. Both women were prepared to suffer the maximum imprisonment of up to 51 weeks and/or a fine of up to £10,000 to challenge the legislation. Interviewed by The Independent on 6 April 2006, Shami Chakrabarti, the Director of Liberty observed:

    "When does a peaceful protester become a trespasser? In a free society, when does he become a criminal? In Britain in 2006, only one man—the Home Secretary—will now decide instead of Parliament and the court. Just when our politicians lament the demise of participatory democracy they increasingly criminalise both free speech and protest."[206]

  1.18  The subsequent delays and costs bringing John and Boyes' case to trial in October 2007, and the tone of District Judge Martin Walker in his summation displays the enormous waste in resources attributed to implementing this legislation. Finding both women guilty, Judge Walker imposed the deliberately minimal penalisation of three months conditional discharge and a fine of £50 towards the prosecutions costs.

  1.19  From the action taken by John and Boyes' and the subsequent outcome of the case, Yorkshire CND believe that to try veteran peace protestors as alleged terrorists indicates not only that the government has lost touch with British traditions of democratic peaceful protest, secured over centuries, but that it supports the interests of another state (the US) over the legal and constitutional principles of British democracy and the rights of British people.

  1.20  A government imposing legislation to prevent legitimate and peaceful protest must expect that the public will demand to know why; particularly if the relevance to national security is as widely disputed as Britain's role in US Missile Defence. Helen John has repeatedly stated that if governments acted legitimately and accountably, there would be no need for such protest:

    "I wish I'd never had to put my foot over any line. Are governments elected to facilitate US interests or represent the British people?

    We need to repeal laws that protect the government behaving illegally. It is the responsibility of all citizens to enforce democracy."[207]

1.21  Stop and Search

  On Saturday 29 March 2008, 10 peace campaigners met at Menwith Hill in solidarity with campaigners protesting in Poland in opposition to proposals to locate US interceptor missiles in their country. Menwith Hill was chosen because of the government's announcement in July 2007 that permission for the US to use the base as a Missile Defence facility had been granted. The process was subsequently criticised by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee for a clear lack of accountability.[208]

  1.22  The campaigners met at the main gate, informed the Ministry of Defence Police (MODPA) of their reasons for meeting and proceeded to speak and take group photographs. At no point was any attempt made to enter the base or breach security. The campaigners decided to walk part way around the perimeter of the base to view the giant radomes. Taking into account the wet and cold weather, the campaigners agreed to keep the walk brief. At the Steeplebush gate, some of the group were apprehended by a Ministry of Defence Police (MDPA) officer who informed them that the rest of the group had been detained under Section 44 of the Prevention of Terrorism act and that they were all to be searched.

  1.23  All six of the campaigners at Steeplebush gate were searched—although, perhaps due to the weather or lack of suspicion by the officers involved, in a somewhat perfunctory fashion. The campaigners were informed that they were being searched as they had breached the boundaries laid down in statute by SOCPA and that in touching the fence they had set off alarms in the base. The question "If we are such a terrorist threat, why did you wait until we got out of the mud to the nice dry concrete gate area to apprehend us?" was not answered.

  1.24  All campaigners were searched, as were the vehicles of the two drivers. The campaigners agreed afterwards that the policing and use of anti-terrorism legislation to challenge their right to protest were an attempt at intimidation. Those who had never been to the base before confirmed that it affirmed their resolve to return.

  1.25  Armed police patrol the rural areas surrounding Menwith Hill and Fylingdales. Their unlimited Stop and Search powers under S44 of the Terrorism Act extend for a five mile radius round Menwith Hill and a 10 mile radius round Fylingdales.

  Yorkshire CND has learnt[209] that between September 2001 and June 2006, 2110 vehicles were stopped and drivers questioned and 941 drivers and passengers searched at Menwith Hill.

  1.26  Yorkshire CND also has considerable anecdotal evidence from supporters from ethnic minorities that the perceived and actual behaviour of the Police agencies at Menwith Hill is a deterrent to lawful peaceful protest.

1.27  Organised Protest

  On Saturday 17 May 2008, Yorkshire CND co-ordinated a demonstration at Menwith Hill entitled "Breaking the Links". The Yorkshire CND staff member organising the event was in compliant co-operation with all agencies in advance—meeting with North Yorkshire Police (NYP) to discuss the plans and regular conversations with the MOD intelligence officer for Menwith Hill.

  1.28  The event was planned as a small scale demonstration, less than 100 were expected and the organiser had specifically requested that:

    —  The barriers used by the police to "contain" protestors at the front gate be replaced with standard metal mesh fences as the large solid barriers create a claustrophobic environment. These barriers are a recent addition to organised protests at the base.

    —  The NYP Chief Constable agree not to impose a Section 12 Public Order Act (1986) and allow protestors to safely walk around the perimeter of the fence; to view all aspects of the facility and to maintain a visible protest to traffic passing the base, as observed by campaigners for many years.

  Both requests were rejected. The first by email stating:

    "There is a concern that changing the format for your participants is inconsistent with what is done such as 4 july (sic) and would set a precedent for challenge."[210]

  The second in writing stating that:

    "|the anticipated nature and extent of the procession and the physical feature of the A59| is too dangerous (and may itself result in serious disruption to the life of the community) to allow the procession |"[211]

  1.29  During the event, further restrictions of movement at the main gates were imposed due to an alleged "counter protest" in support of the base. No further coherent information about the alleged "counter protest" (which never arrived), was provided, except that it was organised by a group who run an online network. Despite subsequent detailed research, no evidence of any group or "counter protest" has been found.

  1.30  Visible police levels on the day were estimated to be of a ratio of 3:1 to campaigners. Police horses from South Yorkshire and the usual array of photographers and camcorders were operational.

  1.31  Freedom of Information requests for figures of policing and the alleged "counter protest" have been submitted by Yorkshire CND. These requests are currently pending with NYP and have been rejected by MDPA.

  1.32  Yorkshire CND believe that policing at Menwith Hill on 17 May 2008 was deliberately excessive and designed to intimidate and deter legitimate and lawful protest.


  2.2  It is the view of Yorkshire CND that policing measures are being misused and applied in situations for which they were not intended to discourage legitimate protest.

  2.3  Although these actions may deter some, they will firm the resolve of committed activists. Further misuse of anti-terrorism legislation to protect facilities such as Menwith Hill may in a worse-case scenario provoke a situation of confrontation, jeopardising the safety of protestors.

  2.4  There have been no convictions of terrorists as a result of Stop and Search under SOCPA. Any anti-terrorism legislation being used to prevent or criminalise legitimate protest at bases such as Menwith Hill should be repealed; for the upholding of core democratic and judicial principles.

  2.5  The peaceful majority should not be criminalised for challenging the government's role in programmes such as US Missile Defence. Protest at bases such as Menwith Hill should be upheld as a democratic principle in any society, not least one with a rich history of principled campaigns for peace and social justice such as Britain.

June 2008

197   More information on this from "What are the Prospects, What are the Costs?: Oversight of Missile Defense (Part 2)", US Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, 16 April 2008-available at Back

198   See: Back

199   U.S. Strategic Command History, Back

200   "Global Strike-A chronology of the Pentagon's New Offensive Strike Plan" from the Federation of American Scientists- Back

201   U.S. Department of the Air Force, The Air Force Science and Technology Plan for Fiscal Year 2000, p. 22. Back

202   "Fact Sheet: Defending America and Its Allies Against Ballistic Missile Attack. President Bush Explains Need for Missile Defence System in Europe, Discusses Progress Defending America From Attack", Office of the Press Secretary, White House, 23 October 2007. Back

203   "Missile Defense Malfunction: Why the Proposed US Missile Defenses in Europe Will Not Work", Philip Coyle and Victoria Samson, Ethics & International Affairs, Volume 22.1, Spring 2008. Back

204   President Bush withdrew the United States from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty on 13 December 2001, to successfully advance the US Missile Defence programme. Back

205   See also:" The European Missile Defence Folly", George Lewis and Theodore Postol, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Vol. 64, No. 2, p. 32-39, 61, May/June, 2008- Back

206 Back

207   Helen John, personal interview for Yorkshire CND, June 2008. Back

208 Back

209   Hansard; Back

210   Email from Chief Inspector Chris Chelton, North Yorkshire Police to Sarah Cartin, Development Worker, Yorkshire CND on 9 May 2008. Back

211   Notice of Section 12 Public Order Act 1986 issued by Chief Constable Grahame Maxwell, North Yorkshire Police, 13 May 2008. Back

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