One member of Frack Free Ryedale said schoolchildren should be educated about their democratic right to peacefully campaign, saying there was no evidence whatsoever to suggest people involved in anti-fracking campaigns have anything to do with extremism.
Driffield School’s explanation about the ‘Prevent’ section of the government’s counter terrorism strategy has sparked a furious reaction on social media.
The passage in the East Yorkshire secondary school’s newsletter reads: “At present nationally, the greatest resource is devoted to preventing people from joining or supporting the so called Islamic State (IS) group, its affiliates and related groups. More locally, the East Riding’s main priorities are far right extremism, animal rights and anti-fracking.”
After The Yorkshire Post asked Driffield School for an explanation, a statement was issued jointly by the school and East Riding of Yorkshire Council which read: “In delivering Prevent training to its schools, the council uses a Home Office training script. This includes a reference to ‘environmental terrorism’ and some audiences have asked if this includes anti-fracking. In response to that, we make it clear that we do not regard anti-fracking campaigners as an appropriate group to monitor as part of the Prevent strategy.”
At the same time, Diane Pickering, the school’s headteacher, issued an apology, which stated: “Prevent training requires schools and public organisations to be aware of all forms of extremism, but it is not the view of the school that anti-fracking is a form of extreme behaviour and we apologise that the link has been made.”
Driffield School is located 30 miles from the Ryedale village of Kirby Misperton, whose residents await the outcome of a judicial review into whether North Yorkshire County Council acted unlawfully in reaching its highly controversial decision in May to grant an application for Third Energy to carry out hydraulic fracturing near their homes.
Ian Conlon, a member of Frack Free Ryedale, the group which brought the joint legal challenge with Friends of the Earth, said the school’s reference to anti-fracking was “quite extraordinary and appalling”.
“Everything we’ve done in the anti-fracking movement has been completely peaceful - there have been no violent threats whatsoever,” Mr Conlon said.
“How can they put us in the same category as terrorists and threatening people with bombs? There is absolutely no evidence that the people involved in political campaigning of fracking have anything to do with extremism whatsoever.”
He added: “I’m concerned that people will see this as somehow evidence that it’s dangerous to be anti-fracking or to get involved in protests. It’s really important to inform people that we are peaceful and are demonstrating our democratic right and I think that’s something that needs to be taught in schools, how to engage politically with the issues of the day and how to express opinions in a way that is acceptable.”
Howard Keal, a supporter of the group, said: “I’m absolutely aghast. If it’s not (a mistake) then they must withdraw it because it’s absolutely outrageous.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Prevent is about safeguarding people at risk from being drawn into terrorism - support for anti-fracking is not an indicator of vulnerability.”