Blockade Australia activists say New South Wales police officers, dressed in camouflage and conducting hidden surveillance, refused to identify themselves when they were discovered at a property in Sydney’s north-west.
According to multiple protesters and their lawyer, a member of the group of about 40 activists camping at the remote property saw two people wearing camouflage gear in bushland at the rear of the property at about 8.30 am on Sunday.
When the men were confronted, they did not speak other than to say, “we’ve been compromised”, according to the activists’ account.
The men fled through the property, where a dark car with two other men inside picked them up. Neither the vehicle nor the people inside had any police markings, the activists said.
NSW police had made a series of extraordinary claims on Sunday about the raid, including that officer were surrounded, threatened, and “feared for their lives”.
The acting assistant commissioner, Paul Dunstan, said on Sunday that “the police that was attacked by that group this morning feared for their lives”.
Seven protesters involved with Blockade Australia were charged on Sunday with a range of offenses after the incident in the Colo Valley.
NSW police claim the officers had been attempting to leave the Putty Road property when activists surrounded their car and deflated its tires.
But while the activists do not deny attempting to prevent police leaving or that the tires were deflated, they say they did so for a good reason: they were trying to avoid people they considered trespassers from going because at no stage did the officers identify themselves as police.
The car driver attempted to flee the scene but went the wrong way down the driveway, meaning that it reached a dead end and had to turn around to come back past the protesters.
Then, the protesters surrounded the car, demanding the men identify themselves. Instead, the activists said the car driver attempted to clear the crowd while several protesters clung to the bonnet. It stopped soon afterward, and activists deflated the tires and placed a tarp on the car. Soon after, the officers identified themselves, and within an hour, other police arrived on the scene.
Activists say that about 100 police, including a dog squad and helicopters, converged on the camp and searched the property.
The activists were then arrested and charged with a range of offenses, including affray and assaulting police officers in the execution of duty without actual bodily harm.
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Footage released by the activists late on Tuesday that they said was of the hidden officers in the car showed them in the rear of a vehicle with two other men in the front. None of the men or the car appear to have any police markings.
The footage also showed many police gathering at the camp after the standoff and a helicopter hovering overhead.
An NSW police spokesperson declined to answer a series of questions regarding the operation, including whether it would conduct an internal investigation into whether the safety of undercover officers was compromised, whether the force denied the officers involved had failed to identify themselves, and whether officers conducting surveillance who become compromised are instructed not to identify themselves as police.
The spokesperson also declined to comment on how long the property had been under surveillance and the purpose of the operation.
The lawyer Mark Davis, representing the seven people charged on Sunday and other individuals facing previous charges because of their involvement with Blockade Australia activism, said it appeared police had been surveilling the remote Colo property since Friday.
He said that as part of the legal process, he would apply for access to the surveillance warrant that justified the raid and called for transparency about its purpose.
“It could have seriously gone wrong, that mission,” he said.
ShowPhotograph: Tim Robberts/Stone RF
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Davis said the activists planned to plead not guilty and would argue they had been justified in acting as they did to stop police from leaving the property as they had not known they were police.
The activists were charged by Strike Force Guard, which was set up in March this year to “prevent, investigate and disrupt unauthorized protests across the state”.
Davis questioned the justification for committing such a large amount of police resources as part of a crackdown on peaceful protesters.
“This is like using a hammer to crack an egg,” he said.
The NSW police association was contacted for comment regarding the operation.
In April, the NSW parliament introduced new legislation aimed at protester groups such as Blockade Australia and Extinction Rebellion that block traffic or conduct other activities such as disrupting coal exports.