In a few short days quite a few of my team mates are going to be having fun at another 'climate camp' down in sunny Kent. I however am going to be sunning myself in the garden (or looking at rain, who knows?) whilst they are on a week of 16 hour days in full kit playing hide and seek with swampies. They will also have the delight of being deployed at strategic points anywhere from pillar to post by people who aren't anywhere near the ground that they will be working on.
The last climate camp was at Heathrow in the summer of last year, protesting against the expansion of the airport to incorporate a third runway. Personally I agree with them that it is a bad move and the environmental damage that'll be caused is grossly disproportionate to the demand for air travel, especially when we're facing a recession. The new runway will inevitably devastate the surrounding countryside as well as the majority of the delightful little village of Sipson. I was down there for the best part of a week, with 0430 starts and 2200 finishes on most days, and for the majority of the time, experienced a significant amount of boredom in between.
There were some 'highlights' that stick in my memory such as being paid - along with 20 other officers in my serial - to guard an empty field next to a fuel depot many miles from the protestors "just in case they tried to get in and disrupt operations by blockading aviation fuel"
Funnily enough, no protestors turned up and we were seriously bored. A great use of Police resources, although Murphy's Law says that had no one been posted to the site, someone would have scaled the fence and we would have been caught with our pants down.
Although we didn't see any protestors there, what we did find however, were vast wild bushes of blackberries, loganberries, gooseberries and raspberries and a random pear tree. Being on a Police carrier helped quite a bit, as we had plenty of evidence bags in which to store said fruit, so a few of us spent each slow walk around the field in our bright yellow jackets picking berries.
There was also a MASSIVE Rottweiler chained (albeit an extremely long chain as we found out) to a post outside a caravan, who wasn't too impressed with people walking past his territory. Thankfully the chain stopped him just short of the path but the low drumroll of landshark feet isn't hard to forget, especially right before seeing a Rot fly out of some hedges next to you!
Other days we were stationed outside the RAF barracks on guard duty as it housed our main mess and supplies area and acted as the forward control point from which resources and specialists were deployed. Being an MOD establishment and operational military base it was also guarded by armed MOD Police and also armed soldiers. And there we were, in our yellow jackets and with our acrylic batons and CS spray, protecting them....
Things did get interesting when some groups attempted 'breakouts' from the climate camp, not that they were in prison or anything but it sounded dramatic in the newspapers. Some of the groups attempted to break through Police lines to vulnerable buildings others tried distraction tactics and were being a general pain in the arse. Others attempted to force confrontation by attacking forward intelligence teams and on one occasion an entire PSU (Police Support Unit comprising of around 25 officers) were forced off the site having been attacked by a large group. A few officers were kicked and punched on the ground as they tripped over tent lines but as the main reason for going into the camp was to try and assess hostility/planning levels and not actually arrest anyone they were withdrawn a short while afterwards.
When the 'day of action' occurred on the Sunday there was the usual disarray as far as our senior commanders were concerned as things were happening in fast time and they simply could not react quickly enough because of extended lines of communication. An officer wearing full public order kit (without riot helmet) looks almost in distinguishable from an officer wearing a pair of black trousers, black waterproof jacket and a bright yellow hi/vis jacket over the top. It's not until you swap a beat helmet/flat cap for a riot helmet that you can really tell the difference, especially at first glance. Given that the level of hostility faced up to that point was sporadic at best, it was decided that the majority of officers were not going to be authorised to be fully kitted up.
This was despite repeated requests from the Inspectors in charge of a couple of serials who were facing the main brunt and were actually standing in front of the crowds and could see the hostility. Had we actually been kitted up there would have been considerably less bruising after being attacked, and no need for us to be relieved later on by several other serials just so we could go and get changed into full kit in the street. We could have also had more tactical options available to us immediately (such as shields to disperse crowds) whereas all we could do at the time was try and maintain some form of cordon to keep the protestors from getting into some of the surrounding vulnerable areas.
At the front of the main group were a load of protestors carrying pictures of faces and placards with slogans on, each picture was mounted on an acrylic board with arm straps - just like our public order shields. As the protestors walked towards the Police lines they chanted "Armed with science" and as they tried to push through the Police lines officers were kicked repeatedly with steel toecap boots to the legs and groin. On camera it just looked like they were trying to push through with their arms in the air holding placards, but we all had the bruises on our shins and thighs to show they were anything but passive!
The next few hours consisted of lots of pushing and shoving with only a handful of protestors actually proving themselves to be more of a pain than the rest. A couple of them found it great fun to get a couple of females in front of them and then use them as a shield to try and run through the lines. Needless to say the pictures of Police officers shoving women back into the crowd didn't look too great, but then charging Police lines isn't a good idea anyway if you don't want to get shoved back.
After quite a few hours in the heat and having push 'n' shove matches with a few more determined protestors, the kevlar body armour and high quality (not) polyester shirts were taking their toll, and we were all sweating buckets. At one point we were held up near a junction and had been joined by some specialist teams including FIT (forward intelligence team) and EG's (evidence gatherers). As the EG's were taking photos and describing several of the antagonists into their dictaphones we were in a pretty tight cordon and my mate was standing directly to my right.
As we were both looking at the crowd he started waving his hand about next to my head saying "get off, get off" he then said out of the corner of his mouth to me "why are you stroking my f&cking neck?" I told him I had no idea what he was on about and we both looked over our shoulders behind us. It turned out we had also been joined by officers from the mounted branch, and one of their horses had decided that she was going to lick the salty sweat off his neck. The rider was in stitches as was one of the EG's who was standing behind us and my mate squealed like a girl when he tried to get away from the horses huge tongue.
After that was a 7 hour slow march to the BAA headquarters (with quite a few members of the public shouting "get a job" whenever the protestors shouted to them) where we then stood outside for hour on end until someone finally made a decision and relieved us with more officers. They then stood outside overnight to prevent anyone storming the building and because they were fully kitted up with shields and batons the pictures looked pretty good. After finally getting back to the nick at about 2300 we had to be back on the bus at 0500 so a few people crashed in the nick, some had hotels and a few stayed with friends but everyone was ratty as hell the next morning.
We then spent a couple of days pretty much the same as before with random postings and the odd scuffle. We were eventually called off a couple of days earlier than planned and by then end of it we all needed a long soak and some kip, but it was fun and we've still got quite a few in-jokes about things that happened over the Op that I'm never going to discuss outside of work! There were quite a few pics and clips floating about the net afterwards, of which a few are in my personal collection, and I've no doubt there will be even more after this latest job, especially on Indymedia.
There are going to be thousands of officers from dozens of forces involved so if you're reading this and are going to be there, have fun and say Hi to some swampies for me!!