More than 30,000 people have read the story of the police visit to two women, and if you haven’t – you can catch up here!
Fran Swan, of Fishpond, and Beverley Glock, of Lyme Regis, had registered for a public meeting for Chideock residents, which was held on Friday 25 November. They had to give their questions in advance and both raised concerns about sewage pollution and water quality.
Mr Loder contacted them by email to say the meeting was specifically for Chideock residents but, “let me know which villager has invited you and I will come back to you to see what we can do”.
Then, on the evening of 24 November, Fran received an after dark visit from a Lyme Regis police constable. The officer had already attempted to visit Beverley, but she was out at the time. The police officer said they had received an email from Mr Loder’s office and that she had been directed to find out Ms Swan’s intentions in wishing to attend the meeting.
These are the bare bones of the story and I was, frankly, shocked and horrified when I heard it … as, no doubt, were the readers of our article. Both the Daily Mail and the Guardian jumped on the story, the former referring to the tragic murder of MP David Amess as justification for Loder’s caution. Two women, both of whom have pristine profiles, DBS checked, three lots of jury service in Fran’s case, etc, etc … basically as upstanding a couple of citizens as you could hope to find … are understandably unamused at being lumped in, however obliquely, with ultra-violent, white, far-right males who were already known to the police. Beverley, who runs her own business, is concerned that this affair might have some impact on her professional reputation. She was once celebrated as one of the 100 most influential people in Buckinghamshire and Berkshire, for goodness sake!
I decided to ask the Conservative Police Commissioner the following questions, as I felt the efforts to excuse the actions of both Loder and the police had been distinctly inadequate:
”Good afternoon, Mr Sidwick
I noted with interest that you believe the matter of the police visit to Fran Swan and Beverley Glock has been addressed satisfactorily and can be considered as closed. This is not a view shared by us, or by our readers.
I would very much appreciate a response to these questions:
1) How was the information about the women’s proposed attendance communicated to the police and what, precisely, did it say?
2) Who decided that there were grounds for a police visit?
3) Were other possible attendees also visited or reviewed?
4) Are these women on a list?
5) Why didn’t the police just advise Loder to contact the women and offer them an alternative date in their locality?
6) What is the protocol going forward?
Neither woman has any history of disruption. In fact, Fran has done jury service three times, for example. A model citizen! Why do you not appear to understand why this has caused such consternation and attracted so much censure?
I am sure neither woman likes the implication that they may somehow, potentially, be in the same category as the white, far-right males who murdered Jo Cox and David Amess, at least one of whom was known to the police.
I look forward to receiving your answers to these questions so we can pass them on to our readers.”
I received the following response – not from Mr Sidwick, but from his office:
“Thank you for your enquiry. Unfortunately, the Police and Crime Commissioner is unable to answer these questions as they are operational in nature, so, fall within the remit of the Force. Therefore, we would advise you to contact the Dorset Police media team.
“With regards to your question: ‘Why do you not appear to understand why this has caused such consternation and attracted so much censure?’
“The Police and Crime Commissioner absolutely recognises that this matter has raised concerns, which is why he felt that it was necessary to seek reassurance from the Force, to release a public statement, and, also, to ask for a review of the incident.
OPCC Media Team”
I sent the same questions, suitably adapted, on to the police. I received this in return:
“Hi Anthea, please see below our statement on this. We will not be going into any further details.
“As is routine, Dorset Police received a notification of an upcoming public community meeting on Friday 25 November 2022 in Chideock facilitated by a local MP.
“This type of notification enables police to support MPs, ensuring that their public duties can be undertaken in a safe and secure environment and to provide them with up-to-date advice and guidance for everyone’s safety.
“As the meeting was planned to address local issues in Chideock, the MP’s office advised officers about the planned attendance of two individuals who were not from Chideock. Officers from the neighbourhood policing team wished to understand the intentions of those people to ensure that public safety was preserved and any lawful protest could be facilitated. This approach was well-intentioned by local officers completely without any direction from the local MP. [My bold]
“Dorset Police would like to apologise if the attendance of a police officer to the home address of individuals going to the meeting caused alarm. We will continue to reflect and review our approach to future meetings, but remain committed to ensuring the safety of the public and elected officials and also the facilitation of lawful protest of all attendees to these public events.”
I cannot say that this made me feel that the matter was closed. My questions remain unanswered and there appears to be a real effort made to take the heat off Loder.
The reply conflicts with that of Inspector Ged Want to similar questions from Beverley. Here, it is clear that Loder’s office did contact the police and ask them to investigate. Judge for yourselves:
“Op Bridger is the overarching approach to support MPs undertake [sic] their public duties in a safe and secure environment. We actively encourage MPs to inform us of their meetings and any concerns they may have to provide them with up to date advice and guidance to ensure everyone’s safety.
“Dorset Police were contacted on 17th November by MP Chris Loder’s principle secretary. Their email outlined a community meeting in Chideock on 25th November , organised for local residents, but they expected other persons not from the village to attend which may be disruptive to the meeting and cause issues. MP Chris Loder had asked the secretary to notify police about this.
“Later on 17th November our Operational Contingency Planning Section (OCPS) contacted my Chief Inspector Andy Edwards to advise 2 individuals who they believed would be attending the meeting with their own agendas, the secretary indicated that she didn’t believe they would cause any significant issues. There was no request of the police to do anything.
“Chief Inspector Edwards contacted the OCPS Inspector and a decision was made for a low key presence in the area during the meeting and a visit to the two named people [my bold] in advance. I detailed the basic taskings given to Sergeant Brown and PC Frecknall to you during our telephone call for your awareness.
“This decision was deemed proportionate and necessary, to ask for the local officer to visit the 2 named individuals (yourself and Fran) to ascertain intentions, being very clear that we did not want to stop you attending for genuine issues, but Police needed to understand your intentions to complete our assessment and determine an appropriate policing response.
“As discussed PC Frecknall attended and spoke to Fran Swan, but you weren’t at home during the visit from the officer.
“We also arranged for the local PCSO to be in the general vicinity around the period of the meeting.”
[The officer then goes on to address Fran’s questions:]
1. What was in the communication from Chris Loder’s office to the police that indicated any necessity for some police involvement?
2. What crime/potential crime did you or your officers believe you were investigating?
Detailed above – no crimes or potential crimes. Our primary role is the safety of the MP during public interactions.
3. If there was no crime/potential crime what was the reason for the attempted police visit?
Detailed above – based on the information from the secretary part of this visit was to explore intentions further.
4. Please provide me with a copy of the email from Chris Loder’s office.
As discussed this is not for us to provide so will be for you to request from the sender or request through a Freedom of information request.
5. Please provide me with any copies of communication relating to any instructions to Sergeant Mike Brown and WPC Kirsti Frecknall.
I read these out to you as they were basic one line instructions based on the above summary. I cannot provide you with a Police tasking email without it going through a FOI request, but I think you were happy that I read it to you verbatim.
6. Please provide me with any communication which was then made to Chris Loder’s office after the attempted visit.
I have checked this and am not aware of any communication that was passed back to Chris Loder’s office after the visits.
7. Please explain why you thought this was an appropriate use of police time and resources.
Detailed in this email.
“I apologised to you for any issues this has caused and have passed on apologies from Mr Edwards. As discussed it’s easier in hindsight to say that we should not have conducted the visits however due to our duty of care and safety/security responsibilities to MP’s in the light of recent high profile horrific attacks we take their concerns in relation to public interactions very seriously. You have explained some of the communication issues that you’ve had with Mr Loder in relation to your campaign against sewage in the sea around Lyme Regis and frustrations around a lack of action. If we were more aware of these background issues and if we had advance notice of private security being employed for the public meeting then we may have reviewed our decision to conduct visits to yourself and Fran.”
I have highlighted two passages. In the first, it looks as though Loder wanted the police alerted, his secretary didn’t think the two were a problem, and then Chief Inspector Edwards steps in and gives the order for visits to the women who had been named by Loder’s office. In the reply I received, it was stated that the MP had not requested any action. But what did he expect to happen when he gave the police the names and addresses of two constituents?
In the second, I want to draw your attention to the fact that Loder rocked up at Chideock with two private security guards. Why? Who paid for them? Was it pre-emptive window-dressing? Does he do this everywhere he goes? (And, yes, we will be asking!)
The whole episode looks to be both a massive waste of police time and evidence of an unwillingness on the part of an MP to engage with constituents asking perfectly legitimate questions about issues which should concern anyone in power.
And is the affair yet another example of the avoidance of scrutiny and the shunning of accountability? I know what I think!
Incidentally, questions about water quality are only going to increase in the light of the shocking dereliction of duty from this government as it reneges on promised timescales to tackle water pollution: