A police officer at an anti-terrorism training event has told teachers that Green MP Caroline Lucas could be an extremist because of her environmental activism.
The Times Educational Supplement (TES) reported that more than 100 teachers heard anti-fracking and environmental protesters being equated with violent extremists at the session on the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy.
The Government is currently considering plans for Extremism Disruption Orders, which critics say could lead to moderate views being branded extreme.
The TES said a police officer taking part in the training used Caroline Lucas as an example of an extremist.
Lucas, the MP for Brighton Pavilion, was arrested along with around 30 others in 2013 after they blocked a road in a demonstration against plans to start drilling for shale gas. She was later found not guilty.
She said she was shocked at the police officer’s comments and was planning to complain.
The MP told the TES: “Equating peaceful political demonstrations with violent extremism is both offensive and deeply misguided”.
The NUT union said it was taken aback by the remarks, and it is people’s right to express a view in a democracy.
Amanda Brown, Assistant General Secretary of the NUT, said: “I’m quite alarmed that a police officer, who people would trust and think is offering the right advice, would say that it might be considered as extremism that someone is expressing their right, in a democracy, to express a view.”
Dylan Murphy was at the training day and commented: “The thing that set alarm bells ringing in my head was when he started talking about environmental activists”.
Equating peaceful political demonstrations with violent extremism is both offensive and deeply misguidedCaroline Lucas MP
The history teacher added that he thought, “Are you equating anti-fracking protests and environmental protesters with neo-Nazis and terrorists?”
Russ Foster, Assistant Chief Commissioner at West Yorkshire Police, said: “The police acknowledge the right of people to protest in a lawful manner. However, should an individual seek to use violence in furtherance of their view, then Prevent would seek to engage with them.”
Extremism Disruption Orders (EDOs) are aimed at combating extremism, but a former head of MI5 has said definitions will be crucial in the plans.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Sir Jonathan Evans cautioned: “One can imagine already the powers being used against harmless evangelical street preachers or the like, out of misplaced zeal and a desire to demonstrate that they are not directed against one religion alone.”
Both The Christian Institute and the National Secular Society have warned that EDOs pose a serious danger to freedom of speech.