Just Stop Oil: Road-blocking protesters 'not disruptive enough' to be shut down, says police chief
'The law is very clear, just blocking a road isn't serious disruption,' Met chief Mark Rowley said
Protesters blocking main roads in central London have not yet caused major disruption while “enormous” policing resources are being taken up dealing with the demonstrations, the new head of the Metropolitan Police has said.
Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley told the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee that officers have to wait until protests by Just Stop Oil and Animal Rebellion are deemed to meet a legal threshold of causing major disruption before they can be shut down.
His officers are in touch with Transport for London, local councils and the emergency services several times per day to check the level of disruption caused.
'Couple of hundred officers per day'
Sir Mark said: “Over the last 11 days, all of those partners have been of a view that it doesn’t cause serious disruption.”
He went on: “As soon as we have evidence of that serious disruption either being crossed as a line, or a good prospect of it being crossed, we’ll start being more assertive with our powers.”
So far there have been 338 arrests, mainly supporters of Just Stop Oil, but also a few of Animal Rebellion.
Sir Mark said: “This has been a really difficult operation over the 11 days so far. And it annoys me how much it’s taking away from policing local communities.
“In 11 days we have put 2,156 officer days into doing this, so that’s a couple of hundred per day roughly.
“That’s an enormous amount of policing resources that aren’t tackling issues that matter to local communities, aren’t dealing with knife crime, aren’t dealing with violence against women and girls.”
On Tuesday, Home Secretary Suella Braverman said she expects police to use the “full powers” given to them by the Government after fossil fuel protesters reportedly obstructed a fire engine and an ambulance.
Ms Braverman branded the actions of demonstrators from Just Stop Oil in west London as “self-defeating” and “completely indefensible”.
Videos shared online on Tuesday show a fire engine and an ambulance on blue lights unable to get through traffic after 32 protesters – some gluing themselves to the road – blocked three routes in Knightsbridge and Brompton Road in London.
Just Stop Oil said it had paused its blockade to let a fire engine through.
Sir Mark told the committee: “The law is very clear that just blocking a road in itself isn’t automatically serious disruption and, whilst it’s committing some offences, in terms of obstruction of the highway, those aren’t prosecutable if it’s a lawful protest as long as it doesn’t exceed reasonable bounds.
“And that’s the judgments police officers have to make the whole time.
“The fact I’ve been putting 200 officers a day into policing this, I don’t welcome that, that’s not good for London’s communities, frankly. But I have to work with the legal framework.
“I would love to be able to close these down more quickly and spend less policing resources on it at the moment, and as soon as partners who have the expertise to assess the impact on the road network and the road services, as soon as they say this is heading towards crossing the line, we’ll be in there straightaway.
“But until that point, I don’t have a legal power to do that.”
Susan Hall, Greater London Assembly Conservatives crime spokesperson said: "Londoners are sick to death of seeing selfish, militant activists blocking ambulances and fire engines without facing any consequences.
"As I said to the Met Police Commissioner this morning, Sadiq Khan and the police must intervene and get them off of the roads."
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