The chief constable of Sussex Police, Martin Richards, has said the £4m cost of policing anti-drilling protests in Balcombe last summer was ‘value for money’.
The subject was raised during an interview marking Martin Richards’ retirement next month, after six years leading the Sussex force and 32 years with the police.
Asked if the operation was good value, Mr Richards said: “I would say so, because the public suffered no real serious injury, protestors were allowed to protest within reason, and the private sector, the company Cuadrilla were able to carry out their lawful business.”
However, the cost will be the burden of the taxpayer, added Mr Richards.
“Ultimately the bill will be picked up by the public somewhere along the line, either by our own existing budget and the reserves, or we have applied to the Home Office.
“If an unforseen policing operation goes above 1% of annual operating budget, which this does, then you can make a bid to Government – but it is still the public who pay ultimately.”
In light of recent ‘not guilty’ verdicts for a number of those arrested during the demonstrations, Mr Richards was asked if he would have done anything different?
“Not at all,” he said. “We were faced with real risk of significant injury and significant disorder, and we had people who were carrying out lawful activity and we also had people who we believed to be carrying out unlawful activity.
“And whilst we facilitate protest we don’t facilitate unlawful activity, and we have to take action if it is appropriate.”
Mr Richards remembered an incident during the veal export protests in the 1990s when one lady died after trying to attach herself to a lorry and falling from it.
“You remember those things, and I can’t deny that some of your previous experiences, and knowing what could happen, influence some of the actions you take.”
The chief constable added: “We’ve had the Balcombe strategy reviewed, and I am confident we followed the right sort of lines.
“What happens in court is always another matter.”
Mr Richards also reflected on how the miner’s strike in the 1980s had some interesting parallels with the Balcombe demonstrations.
Both episodes have been defining moments during his 32 years of public service, and while much has changed during that time, the chief constable perceives one element that remains constant – the police ‘stuck in the middle of it’.
Between a rock and a hard place? “Absolutely,” he said. “It is not an exaggeration to say that on one day we were being accused of caving in to protesters, on another day accused of being in the pockets of the private sector and Cuadrilla and one occasion we were accused of being soft and on another we’re accused of being over the top and aggressive towards protesters.
“That suggests we’re getting it about right,” said the chief constable.
“If we are being criticised equally and oppositely on all sides then maybe we are somewhere in the middle.
“That is where we attempt to be.”
What do you think? Leave a comment below, or email Letters to the Editor to firstname.lastname@example.org
To read the full and wide-ranging interview with retiring Sussex Police chief constable Martin Richards see this Thursday’s Mid Sussex Times or West Sussex County Times (January 30, 2014).