Disabled activists have demanded an inquiry after

first_imgDisabled activists have demanded an inquiry after a police force that has patrolled four Conservative party conferences since 2010 admitted sharing information about protesters with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).GreaterManchester Police (GMP) has now become the second police force to admit sharinginformation about people taking part in protests with DWP, following a similar admissionby Lancashire police.But GMP hasalso admitted having a “sharing agreement” with DWP, even though the departmentexplicitly stated two months ago that it had no such arrangements with anypolice force.Theadmissions have followed claims reported by Disability News Service (DNS) thatpolice forces have been targeting disabled protesters taking part in peaceful anti-frackingprotests across England.Lancashirepolice then admittedin December that it had shared both information and video footage ofdisabled anti-fracking protesters with DWP, in an apparent attempt to havetheir disability benefits removed.Lastmonth, DWPrefused to say – in response to a DNS freedom of information request – whichpolice forces had passed it information about claimants of disability benefits who have taken part in anti-fracking andanti-austerity protests.But GreaterManchester Police has now told DNS that it passed DWP information – but notvideo footage – about protesters taking part in the anti-fracking protests atBarton Moss, Salford.Thoseprotests took place in 2013 and 2014, but the force also confirmed that it hasshared information with DWP from protests not connected with fracking.This raisesconcerns that it has passed information to DWP about disabled people whoprotested in Manchester about the government’s austerity-related socialsecurity reforms, particularly high-profile actions in2015 and 2017.In2017, disabledactivists from the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network (DAN) and Disabled People Against Cuts(DPAC) criticised “heavy-handed” police tactics at a direct actionprotest that blocked tram lines outside the conference.The Toryparty is due to return to Manchester in September for this year’s annual partyconference.Andy Greene,a member of DPAC’s national steering group, said: “Using the cover of suspectedbenefit fraud as a shroud for the targeting of disabled activists isoutrageous. “These arepublic services and should be deploying every resource they have to supportdisabled people to be active and engaged citizens. “Yet, whatwe see is the use of those resources deployed against disabled people as if weare enemies of the state. “Violence,the weaponisation of hunger, the ‘graveand systemic violations of disabled people’s human rights’ – this iswhat we are experiencing at the hands of the police, the DWP and other publicservices every day.”He added: “Thereneeds to be an inquiry into what’s gone on; and where wrong has been done, peoplehave to be held to account. “Who madethe decisions within these services to share this information, when, how werethese decisions justified? “Disabledpeople need to be shown – not words – that they are safe to take part inprotests, demonstrations, campaigning and activism without the threat of policeviolence or having their benefits and services taken away. “Thepolicing of disabled people by the very services designed to empower and enableus is a dangerous road to go down.”DennisQueen, who lives in Manchester and was arrested at the 2017 protest for publicdisorder but was later found not guilty, also backed calls for an inquiry.She said shedid not understand how the police could lawfully know who was claimingdisability benefits.She said: “Inthe same vein I don’t understand what business it is of the DWP if a persondecides to attend a protest. “As far as Iam aware there are no questions in benefit claims about attending protests.“There is norule that claimants may not attend protests for us to be breaking. If there isthen we ought to have a right to know about it.“I can onlyassume this is being done to cause a chilling effect and make disabled peopleafraid to protest. As such, it’s an informal ban on protesting against disabledpeople.”Three otherpolice forces that have been involved in policing anti-fracking protests overthe last six years – Sussex, Surrey and North Yorkshire – have told DNS thatthey have not passed on information about protesters to DWP.A GreaterManchester Police spokesperson said in a statement: “As part of a sharingagreement, information about protestors has been passed to DWP but only in theevent where concerns have been raised. “During thecourse of our duties, whether this is at protests or not, if any concerns areidentified, we are duty-bound to pass these onto the relevant partner agenciesin any policing operation.  “No-one isdeterred from taking part in protests or exercising their right to free speech.“As with anyoperation, a strategy is put in place in order for us to facilitate peacefulprotests with as little disruption to the local area as possible. “The sharingof information is a useful tool for both us and our partners, helping us tobuild greater intelligence pictures, identify areas of concerns and work betterwith the communities we serve.” A forcespokesperson later added: “Information was passed to DWP in relation to theBarton Moss protests.”She saidthat the raising of concerns that lead to information being passed to DWP arethose “identified from intelligence gathering before all protests, reports madeby the public and information passed on by police officers on the ground”.Thespokesperson also confirmed that information had been passed to DWP about bothanti-fracking and non-fracking-related protests.It is notyet clear which other protests have led to information being passed to DWP byGreater Manchester Police.A DWPspokesperson said: “There is no formal arrangement inplace between DWP and any police force for this or other similar scenarios.”She had notsaid by noon today (Thursday) whether this meant her department was accusingGreater Manchester Police of lying about its “sharing agreement” with DWP.She alsorefused to say if the minister for disabled people accepted that this exchange ofinformation with GMP risked creating a more hostile environment for disabledpeople who receive benefits.She also refused to say if Newton accepted that there would be grave concerns over the possible sharing of information with DWP by GMP from anti-austerity protests that were critical of DWP and its policies at Tory party conferences in Manchester.Picture: Dennis Queen at the 2015 protest outside the Conservative party conference in Manchester A note from the editor:Please consider making a voluntary financial contribution to support the work of DNS and allow it to continue producing independent, carefully-researched news stories that focus on the lives and rights of disabled people and their user-led organisations. Please do not contribute if you cannot afford to do so, and please note that DNS is not a charity. It is run and owned by disabled journalist John Pring and has been from its launch in April 2009. Thank you for anything you can do to support the work of DNS…last_img read more