By Andy Rowell, Open Democracy UK
North Yorkshire Police are coming under renewed pressure to answer questions over the apparently hasty, heavy-handed and heavily publicised arrest of two campaigners in January this year at the height of the protests against fracking firm Third Energy.
As the protests reached a peak at Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire, many people believed that fracking could be approved by the Government any day. To add to the heightened tensions, North Yorkshire Police issued a news article which stated that two men had been arrested on suspicion of poisoning a guard dog – potentially with “pellets” made from aniseed balls. The media were quick to pick up the press release leading to stories in the BBC, ITVDaily Mail as well as local press outlets.
The media was quick to point the finger of blame at the anti-fracking campaigners: “Two men arrested on suspicion of poisoning a fracking site guard dog were environmental protesters”, revealed the Mail Online.
However, in a new FOI reply, the Police have now confirmed that a summary from the vets suggests that after the vet took a blood sample from the dog, there was “nothing” that “showed regards poisoning”. The vet found the dog “bright and alert. Heart rate was normal as was temperature. No swellings around the neck, no dehydration. No concerns but kept in as a precaution.”
The new information raises numerous questions, not least why the men were arrested in the first place, why some of the comments made by the security and Police seem to have exaggerated the severity of the dog’s condition, and whether there could even be grounds for a claim against the Police for wrongful arrest.
Most media covered quotes from Derek Laird, Managing Director of Next Level Security Services, which is Third Energy’s security services provider at the Kirby Misperton site, was reported in media outlets as saying the dog, Narla had “collapsed and her heart stopped temporarily, she was rushed to the vets were she underwent emergency surgery and is now heavily sedated.”
Laird told the Daily Mail: “This dog could have died and it is only thanks to the skill of the veterinary staff that she is alive today. Understandably this is an extremely upsetting time for her handler, Adam, who has had Narla since she was a puppy.”
Third Energy also weighed in, with Alan Linn, a Director from the company telling the media: “This malicious and dangerous act has resulted in a dog collapsing and being rushed to a vet to receive emergency treatment.”
The incident turned locals against the protesters: The incident was “showing up” the protesters “in their true colours. Nothing to do with fracking at all. These people are akin to terrorists,” noted one reader on the York Press website. Local pro-fracking PM, Kevin Hollinrake weighed in. “Men arrested after guard dog poisoned at fracking site – utter disgrace if proven. Some of these people have no limits on what they will do to get their own way”, he tweeted, linking to the BBC site. North Yorks Police also re-tweeted the press story.
On Facebook the rumour mill went overdrive, as people shared the press release, with protesters now accused of even “killing” the dog: “Bloody disgusting call themselves eco warriors then kill an innocent animal. I cannot abide animal cruelty please share so everyone is aware of this poor dog.”
One of the men arrested, Pete Lomas says: “There was no evidence of me throwing anything anywhere. They didn’t mention anything about pellets at the interview. The first thing I knew about pellets was when I saw it on the NYPP Facebook page.” In fact, he says: “They never said they had any evidence.”
What the arrest did do, though, is remove the two protesters from outside the gates. As the Police press release said at the time: “Both men have been released on bail, with a condition to stay away from an area around the site gates, as enquiries continue.”
In late January, Lomas was informed that no further charges would follow. But it seems from the dates at the bottom of the Police’s website that it was not until March that they quietly updated their press story to state: “Two men arrested following an incident in which a guard dog became ill at Kirby Misperton will face no further action.” The dog had made a “full recovery.” No charges would be taken forward due to “insufficient evidence.”
Lomas says: “I knew I had done nothing wrong. They will try anything to discredit us. This is the lowest of the low”. He believes he was targeted for being an effective anti-fracking campaigner and for “bringing communities and campaigners together”.
A spokesperson for NLSS said: “In January 2018, a dog working as part of the Third Energy security contract at the KMA well site in Kirby Misperton vomited and collapsed after eating pellets thrown over the security fence. This action was recorded on CCTV. The dog required emergency treatment and the vet instructed that she should not return to guard duties for at least 10 days afterwards.”
A spokesperson for Third Energy added: “Third Energy is relieved that a security dog, working at its site in Kirby Misperton, made a full recovery following emergency treatment in early January 2018. The dog had vomited and collapsed at the site after eating pellets thrown over the security fence. The North Yorkshire Police hold the relevant CCTV recordings from the day.”
At the time of going to press the North Yorkshire Police had been asked to clarify numerous issues, including, amongst others what was the legal basis for the arrest of the two men; what evidence the Police were basing the arrest on and where this had come from? What evidence had they that the dog ever ate pellets in the first place that caused it to be “unwell”? So far North Yorkshire Police have refused to answer any of the questions.
This article originally appeared on Open Democracy UK.
Image: Flickr/Public Domain Mark 1.0