Police Scotland “lied” to the Scottish Police Authority to “cover up their failures” when questioned on its policing of two protests during COP26, alleges a report by police monitoring network Netpol and campaign group Article 11.
It is now calling for an investigation by the Scottish Parliament, into alleged police intimidation, harassment and aggression during November’s UN climate conference in Glasgow.
However Police Scotland insists its policing was “proportionate and effective” and has commending officers on their performance during the “unprecedented” policing challenge presented by the event.
The claims centre around the use of two police kettles during climate talk protests – a controversial police tactic used to control demonstrations or large crowds, which sees officers surround the group to prevent them leaving except through a controlled exit.
The NetPol and Article 11 Trust report – Respect of Repression – details multiple witness statements which claim infants, adolescents, elderly people and those with serious health conditions and disabilities were kettled during the two incidents on 3 and 6 of November.
The research draws on 100 eye witness reports from the public and protestors as well legal observers. It also documents what it claims to be “arbitrary use of stop and search”, “aggressive” surveillance of protestors and “violent” policing of demonstrations.
Key findings revolve around the police “kettles” during which it claims people were refused exit for up to five hours without access to food, water, appropriate clothing, medication or toilets in adverse weather conditions. At the first some, including women, were forced to urinate in the street, according to reports.
At a Police Authority meeting, during which board members were given an update on policing during the climate talks, COP26 Gold Commander Bernard Higgins claimed “there was always an opportunity for people to leave” both police kettles.
“We weren’t holding them against their will,” he said, in response to a question about whether vulnerable people had been involved in police “containments” . “We assessed in both groups that there was no vulnerability.”
However multiple reports received by the campaign organisations claim bystanders were also caught up in both kettles and unable to leave. One woman said she was refused exit to attend a medical appointment for cancer treatment on 3 November.
The second kettle focussed around the “containment” of the Young Communist League bloc taking part in the COP26 Coalition’s global day of action on climate justice march. Those caught up in the kettle included several young children and vulnerable people, including a mother with an infant in a pram, according to the report.
It found no police liaison officers (PLOs) were sent to the 6 November kettle for over an hour despite repeated requests. “It is unclear, therefore, how PLOs were able to accurately assess vulnerability in absentia,” the report states.
In advance of November’s climate talks, Police Scotland repeatedly insisted that policing of any protests would be “human rights-based” and with a “welcoming, friendly and proportionate”.
But campaigners claim this was not borne out by police operations on the ground.
Kat Hobbs, communications coordinator from Netpol, said its research told “a shocking story” of “intimidation, harassment and police violence”.
“This report exposes systemic abuses of power from Police Scotland throughout the COP26 Climate conference,” she added. “Police Scotland then lied to the public, to campaigners, and to the Scottish Police Authority about their actions.
“A key concern is the controversial use of kettles to detain large groups of people, a tactic Police Scotland have lied repeatedly about. How Police Scotland are able to assert that no one was held “against their will” in this instance – and that vulnerable people were not detained – is mystifying.
“We’re calling for the Scottish Parliament to conduct an independent investigation of the COP26 policing. It’s outrageous that Police Scotland are claiming this as a success and lying to the public to cover up their failures.”
Concerns were first raised in an open letter to Nicola Sturgeon on 4 November from the COP26 Coalition, Stop Climate Chaos and the Climate Coalition which expressed “deep concerns” with “heavy-handed and highly disproportionate” policing.
In response Police Scotland said that while “there will be lessons to learn”, the policing operation was “proportionate and effective”. Climate talks went ahead without disruption, protests went ahead and were “largely peaceful” with less than a hundred arrests, it has pointed out.
Chief Constable Iain Livingstone told the Police Authority meeting: “There was a fear that his major conference was going to see major protests, potential violence and major disruption, not just to Glasgow but across Scotland. It’s quite something to say there wasn’t any [disruption].”
Police got “the balance right” between ensuring public safety and that protestors were allowed to have a voice, he added.
However calls for an inquiry have been backed by human rights organisations and by the Scottish Greens.
Naomi McAuliffe, Amnesty International’s Scotland programme director said:“Amnesty is very concerned by these reports collected by Netpol and they certainly need further investigation.
“We would like to see more scrutiny of the use of containment, often referred to as “kettling”, practices by the police to ensure they are compliant with human rights laws and standards.
“For the public to have confidence in the police, we need instances such as this to be thoroughly and independently investigated and lessons learnt.”
Police Scotland was approached for comment, which referred The Ferret to the Police Authority meeting.
The Police Authority has also been approached for comment.