Teesside : Police accused of ‘witch hunt’ amid claims union members were ‘targeted for questioning’ over foreign labour dispute

A trade union has accused police of carrying out a “witch hunt” in connection with a long-running dispute over the building of a Teesside power plant.

The GMB union claims its members were “targeted for questioning” and a member was visited by police at their home.

The criticism of Cleveland Police’s actions is linked to the union’s ongoing row with Sita Sembcorp over the levels of foreign workers used to build a £250m energy plant at Wilton.

The GMB union is seeking to know how the force learned the names and private mobile telephone numbers of union members.

It has also asked why a member was visited by officers at their home last Sunday to be questioned about a protest held at the Wilton industrial site on Monday.

Phil Whitehurst, GMB national officer, said:

“The Police and Crime Commissioner Barry Coppinger needs to ask the police to answer some basic questions on this activity by the Cleveland Police on this protest over discrimination by Sita SembCorp against Teesside workers.

“We need to know who instigated this witch hunt, why were unemployed construction workers targeted for questioning, how the police got their names and private mobile telephone numbers and home addresses.

“Above all we need to know why Cleveland Police devote resources to targeting peaceful trade union protest rather than fighting criminal activity in the area.”

In response, Chief Superintendent Adrian Roberts of Cleveland Police said:

“Officers were made aware of a number of posts on an open social media profile, which discussed protests planned at the Wilton site on the morning of Monday, February 23, and that this would potentially involve large numbers of protesters congregating at the entry and exit gates to the site.

“Police identified that the protest would coincide with rush hour and due to existing road works on the A174, that there would be substantial congestion.

“Public safety is paramount and with a site of this nature, there was an absolute need to ensure the ability of emergency service vehicles to enter and leave the site in the event of an emergency.

“In line with national best practice, officers from Cleveland Police openly sought to identify and engage with the organisers in advance, to explain the role of the force and open a dialogue to ensure the protest went ahead peacefully, lawfully and safely.

“This involved contact with one of the trade unions who were known to be connected to the dispute. They indicated that they were aware of the individual who appeared from social media to be organising the protest but that the protest had nothing to do with them.

“In order to establish a working dialogue with protesters, officers made direct contact with an individual via telephone, but having generated no response, the person was visited at his home address by an officer.

“There was no suggestion whatsoever that the right to protest would be improperly impeded, however, the individual was unforthcoming. To be clear the police had no knowledge of any current affiliation between this individual and the GMB trades union.

“As in all situations of this type, Cleveland Police’s role was to objectively and impartially balance the rights of individuals to engage in peaceful protest with the rights of affected businesses and members of the public to go about their lawful activities.

“Cleveland Police would very much welcome the engagement of GMB or any other trades union involved in the planning of any future protests, and would invite contact.”

Also responding to the comments, Cleveland Police and crime commissioner, Barry Coppinger said:

“I have not received any correspondence or complaint from the GMB or any other individual or organisation with regard to the matters reported in the local media.

“If I do receive such correspondence I will act appropriately.”

Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 26 Feb 2015

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