The latest protests breach an injunction designed to protect motorways and A-Roads in the capital and surrounding region
Campaign group Insulate Britain says 50 of its protesters have blocked major roads in London this morning, including Arnos Grove, the Blackwall Tunnel and Hangar Lane.
It’s the fourth week of protests, which started on the M25 then moved to Dover docks before hitting the M1 and M4 last week.
Yesterday the government revealed it had taken out a fresh injunction to target protesters who disrupt any highways on the Strategic Roads Network linked to the M25.
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“The new injunction bans activities that obstruct traffic and access to motorways and major A Roads in and around London. It also bans activities which cause damage to the road surface and infrastructure and prohibits activists from gluing themselves to the road or abandoning their vehicles.
“Anyone who breaks this injunction faces imprisonment or an unlimited fine. Activists found in contempt of court may also be forced to repay the costs of their case, the Department of Transport anounced yesterday.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps added: “Activists are being tracked down and served court papers and will now face justice. We will take the strongest action against anyone else who decides to take part in this ridiculous and irresponsible action.”
Insulate Britain’s protests have been condemned by government and the police, and the National Highways court action means protestors venturing onto motorways risk jail time.
“Invading a motorway is reckless and puts lives at risk,” transport minister Grant Shapps announced via twitter. “I asked National Highways to seek an injunction against M25 protestors which a judge granted.” However the current injunction does not apply to A-roads or any other, including the Dover approaches.
Priti Patel has also announced plans to create a new offence of “public nuisance” as part of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, giving police “the powers to better manage such disruptive demonstrations in future”.
Insulate Britain is campaigning for the taxpayer to fund the insulation of all social housing in Britain by 2025 and making other demands relating to eco-housing. It has justified its actions saying “campaigning within the law has not worked” and that it had “no alternative” but to illegally block roads.
While a large number of protestors have been arrested, videos on social media have also shown police standing between the offenders and the traffic without intervening, prompting criticism from groups such as the Association of British Drivers (ABD) that action was not taken swiftly.
The National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC) told Auto Express that tactics for dealing with protests are decided by the commander on the ground and vary depending on the individual circumstances of the protest. Police have previously used intelligence-gathering tactics to counteract planned disruptive protests.
Announcing her plans for a more uniform approach to dealing with disruptive protests, Patel said: “Peaceful protest is a cornerstone of our democracy and there will always be space for legitimate groups to make their voices heard.
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“But this Government will not stand by and allow a small minority of selfish protestors to cause significant disruption to the lives and livelihoods of the hard-working majority.”
Patel said “guerilla tactics” would only detract from Insulate Britain’s ultimate cause, adding that the M25 protest was “completely unacceptable”.
She added: “The police have our full support. They must uphold the law and take decisive action.”
Hugh Bladon, co-founder of the ABD, warned that it would “certainly be the case” that more road-blocking protests would take place in future if action were not taken, and said the measures announced by the Home Secretary were “long overdue”.
He said: “I agree with Patel in that she’s doing the right thing”, but added that it would be “absolutely ridiculous” to arrest disruptive protestors and then release them without charge.
Do the police have powers to remove protesters?
At present, wilfully obstructing a public highway is an offence under the Highways Act 1980. Those found guilty can be given a maximum fine of £1,000.
Kent Police told Auto Express that when dealing with a human roadblock, officers will speak to protestors and determine how long they aim to continue. If disruption is planned for a few minutes, the police may wait it out, but longer protests have to be dealt with more actively.
The police have the power to remove protestors from the road and arrest them, but the challenge lies in ensuring no one is injured in the process. This is especially difficult when protestors physically attach themselves to surfaces or objects using glue, for example.
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