At least 15 people were arrested by police at a campsite for protesters more than eight miles from the G7 summit in Cornwall, southwest England, despite the fact that they had decided to sit out a demonstration and stay at the camp.
The protesters told VICE World News and Liberty Investigates – an editorially independent unit with the human rights organisation Liberty – that they believed the arrests were intended to send “a chill” to all activists protesting the G7. Activists said 7 further arrests were carried out, although police denied this.
Leaders from the world’s seven leading developed economies have been gathering in an exclusive hotel in the village of Carbis Bay, near St Ives, and a number of protest groups have been demonstrating against the summit.
The arrested protesters were all from Animal Rebellion, a climate protest group that is an offshoot of Extinction Rebellion. VICE World News reported how seven other activists from the same group were arrested on Thursday while trying to go to the beach to chill out, because their vehicles were found to have paint, smoke grenades and loud hailers.
With the most recent arrests, police officers turned up at the protesters’ campsite on Saturday when many Animal Rebellion activists were taking part in a sit-in protest at a McDonalds restaurant in Falmouth. Those who had stayed behind did so because they were elderly, had dogs to look after, or had been up the night before keeping an eye out for the police, activists said. Others, intimidated by the policing of Animal Rebellion, wanted to stay somewhere safe and avoid the protests, activists said.
“It definitely feels like we are potentially being targeted because we are small. We are an easy target,” said Harley McDonald-Eckersall, a member of Animal Rebellion who was taking part in a demonstration in Falmouth.
“The last contact we had with someone [at the camp] was around 1PM. We didn't actually find out about the raid until around 8PM.”
McDonald-Eckersall and the other activists say they realised something was wrong when repeated calls to people in the camp went unanswered. The police raid, which resulted in the arrests of at least 15 people including the landowner of the campground, was, they say, the culmination of three days of police intimidation that began with the arrests on Thursday.
“Since then we've had police parked around the corner and outside our camp, and they've been driving by all through the night, during the day,” says McDonald-Eckersall. “Every car, or almost every car that's left, has been stopped and searched.” Earlier on Saturday, McDonald-Eckersall’s vehicle had been stopped and searched, along with five other cars. “[The police] said they had intelligence to say that people from the Animal Rebellion camp had articles to cause criminal damage,” she says. All that was found in her car were some buckets made out of net, which police officers allegedly spent 20 to 25 minutes examining.
“There's been a number of police visiting [our camp and] driving on unlawfully without permission over the [past] few days,” says Dan Kidby, another member of Animal Rebellion.
Neither McDonald-Eckersall nor Kidby knows why the group has been subject to so much police attention. Animal Rebellion was formed in May 2019 and since then, the pair says, has only carried out peaceful protests. A march held on Friday was pre-arranged with the police, while a demonstration on Saturday at a McDonald’s in Falmouth was discussed with officers.
“Compared to the other protests here we’re obviously a small group,” says Kidby. “Perhaps we’re easy to intimidate, and [that can put] a chill across… all the groups that are here as word gets out. That's one theory… We’re an easy target.”
A spokesperson for Devon and Cornwall Police said: “15 people have been arrested following a search at Clowance Wood Nurseries in Praze during the afternoon of Saturday 12 June.
“A warrant was carried out under section 8 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act following information received by police. Items including spray paint, scaffolding and gas horns were located and have been seized by police.
“15 people have been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit public nuisance and will be taken into police custody for questioning. Enquiries remain ongoing at this time.”
“There is always concern with pre-emptive arrests that are used to stop people lawfully protesting,” says Raj Chada, a partner at the law firm Hodge Jones & Allen, who has represented multiple protesters. “These cases will need to be properly scrutinised to see what evidence there is of offences. One question is whether the police really have evidence of conspiracy to commit public nuisance, or whether they just arrested Animal Rebellion to keep them away from the G7 and then put bail conditions on.”