Protesters admit they surrounded car, deflated its tyres and placed tarpaulin over it, but say they thought officers were trespassers
Blockade Australia activists say New South Wales police officers, who were 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 about 8.30am 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 car 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 officers were surrounded, threatened and “feared for their lives”.
The acting assistant commissioner, Paul Dunstan, said on Sunday that “those police that were attacked by that group this morning feared for their lives”.
Seven protesters involved with Blockade Australia were charged on Sunday with a range of offences 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 tyres.
But while the activists do not deny attempting to prevent police leaving, or that the tyres were deflated, they say they did so for good reason: they were trying to prevent people they considered to be trespassers from leaving, because at no stage did the officers identify themselves as police.
The driver of the car 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.
It was then that the protesters surrounded the car, demanding the men identify themselves. Instead, the driver of the car attempted to clear the crowd, while several protesters clung to the bonnet, the activists said. It stopped soon afterwards, and activists deflated the tyres, and place a tarpaulin on the car. Soon after, the officers identified themselves, and within an hour, other police arrived on the scene.
Activists say that in all 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 offences, including affray and assault police officer in execution of duty without actual bodily harm.
Footage released by the activists late on Tuesday that they said was of the camouflaged officers in the car showed them in the rear of a car with two other men in the front. None of the men or the car appear to have any police markings.
The footage also showed a large number of police gathering at the camp after the standoff and a helicopter hovering overhead.
A 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, who is 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 conducting surveillance on the remote Colo property since Friday.
He said that as part of the legal process he would be applying 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.
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 unauthorised 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.