The serious disruption the Extinction Rebellion demonstrations are causing to people in central London and beyond is unacceptable
Metropolitan Police spokesman
The climate change campaigners today warned they were planning protests at London’s Heathrow Airport on Friday, opening a new front in its demonstrations which have caused transport snarl-ups in the British capital. And a Metropolitan Police statement indicated patience was wearing thing, with more than 460 people arrested so far this week. A police spokesman said: “The serious disruption the Extinction Rebellion demonstrations are causing to people in central London and beyond is unacceptable and we completely understand the concern it is causing to those who are disrupted by it.”
Throughout the course of the day, the Met has been forced to put more than 1,000 police officers on the streets to police the demonstrations.
The spokesman added: “This is putting a strain on the Met and we have now asked officers on the boroughs to work 12-hour shifts; we have cancelled rest days and our Violent Crime Task Force (VCTF) have had their leave cancelled.”
He stressed the VCTF was “ring-fenced”, meaning the Met could still deal with any unrelated violent incidents – but added: “The protesters need to understand that their demonstration is meaning officers are being diverted away from their core local duties that help keep London safe and that this will have implications in the weeks and months beyond this protest as officers take back leave and the cost of overtime.”
Police were currently dealing with illegal protests at Waterloo Bridge, Oxford Circus and Parliament Square, where hundreds of demonstrators have gathered.
In addition, there are legal protests in Marble Arch, which is the designated place for anyone wanting to stage peaceful protests.
Meanwhile, smaller groups were staging “ad hoc” protests across London, blocking roads and bridges for between five and ten minutes at a time.
In addition, there is a boat which police believe is bolted to the ground in Oxford Circus and two large trucks which have been disabled, which protesters have glued themselves to, much as they did with DLR trains yesterday.
The spokesman said: “The protesters are using tactics that see them lying on the ground when approached by police. This means that it takes at least four officers to remove one person from a site to ensure their safety which is obviously resource intensive.
“Those arrested are then taken into custody which again means our officers are off the streets temporarily while that process takes place.
“We have been asked why we are not using tactics such as containment – physically and forcibly stopping the protesters from moving around. The simple answer is we have no legal basis to do so.
“These are peaceful protesters; while disruptive their actions are not violent towards police, themselves or other members of the public. We are looking at other tactics such as tighter police cordons, but again that is resource intensive in terms of officer numbers and more often than not it just shifts the protesters to another location nearby, and does not assist in reopening roads.
“We have a robust policing plan in place, led by an experienced public order Commander, which as you would expect continues to evolve as the situation develops.”
Police were aware of the plans with respect to Heathrow, the spokesman said.
He added: “We have strong plans in place that will enable us to deploy a significant number of officers to Heathrow and take firm action against any protester seeking to cause disruption at this location by committing criminal offences such as obstruction of the highway.
“We have requested mutual aid from other police forces to support our operation. The airport is part of our national infrastructure and we will not allow the illegal activities of protesters to cause further disruption and misery to thousands of travellers, many of them families, over Easter. We would urge any protester planning to attend Heathrow to strongly reconsider.
“Ultimately, the Met has a duty to balance the rights of those engaged in protest and who are acting within the law, against the needs and rights of Londoners to go about their daily lives with minimum disruption. Where people are not acting within the law we continue to arrest them, and we anticipate arrests continuing to rise.”
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said: “Our hard-working police officers have my full backing in their efforts to keep Londoners safe and to keep our city running, but I am now very concerned about the impact the protests will have on our ability to tackle issues like violent crime if they continue any longer.
“I urge everyone to co-operate with the police and comply with their instructions by attending Marble Arch as part of the legal protest – Marble Arch is the designated place that anyone wanting to protest should attend. If protesters don’t, and break the law, the police will have no choice but to make arrests.”
Express.co.uk has contacted Extinction Rebellion asking for a response to the police statement.
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