M25 campaigners threaten to defy court injunction

Environmental activists have indicated they will continue blocking the M25 despite facing up to two years in prison after the Government was granted an injunction against them.

 

Sep 23, 2021
By Tony Thompson

Campaigners from Insulate Britain have shut down parts of the M25 five times in just over a week.

More than 200 people have been arrested, according to the Department for Transport (DfT) but it has been reported that many people have returned to demonstrate on the motorway after being arrested and released during previous incidents.

On Wednesday (September 22) the Government successfully applied to the High Court for an order which prohibits anyone from “blocking, endangering, slowing down, preventing, or obstructing the free flow of traffic onto or along or off the M25 for the purposes of protesting”.

The order also forbids causing damage to the motorway’s surface or any apparatus around it, “locking on” to any other person or object on the road, erecting a structure, tunnelling nearby, entering the motorway unless in a vehicle, abandoning any vehicle or item with the intention of causing an obstruction and refusing to leave the area when asked by police.

Anyone who breaks the injunction could be found to be in contempt of court, which carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison or an unlimited fine.

Shortly after the injunction was implemented, Insulate Britain issued a statement, which read: “Our campaign goes on. For ten days now, campaigners from Insulate Britain have been blocking motorways to urge our Government to make a meaningful statement we can all trust on insulating and retrofitting the houses of this country.

“Doing anything less would be a betrayal of any UK Government’s first duty: to protect the British people.

Assistant Chief Constable Chris Noble, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for policing protests, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the police “aren’t anti-protest but we are pro-responsibility”.

“The people most likely to come to harm at the moment is probably initially police officers who are having to run across motorways to try and remove protesters as well as ironically keep them safe from themselves,” he said.

The national chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales defended police officers for their handling of climate change protestors after their approach was criticised following the release of footage of an officer dealing with the incident.

John Apter said: “Yet again we find our colleagues being unfairly berated across the media by armchair critics who do not understand policing, how police powers work or the incredibly difficult situations they find themselves in.

“Police only have so many powers at their disposal when handling protestors. Police officers have to work within the law. When protests evolve, police powers must evolve so we welcome the imposed injunction, granted by National Highways.”

“I spoke to some of the officers out there doing their best in these situations and putting themselves at risk. The motorway is a hostile and unforgiving place, it’s beyond reckless that the protesters are putting themselves, my colleagues and the public at risk in this way.

“There’s not enough dedicated officers either on the roads, or to police protests, to deal with these situations in the way the public would expect us to.”

Surrey’s police and crime commissioner Lisa Townsend said the High Court injunction would be a “welcome deterrent” and give police more powers to prevent and respond to new protests expected to take place on the motorway network.

Speaking to The Times, she said: “I think a short prison sentence may well form the deterrent that is needed, if people have to think very, very carefully about their future and what a criminal record might mean for them.

“I’m delighted to see this action by the Government, that sends a strong message that these protests that selfishly and seriously endanger the public are unacceptable, and will be met with the full force of the law. It is important that individuals contemplating protesting in this way reflect on the harm they could cause, and understand that they could face jail time if they continue.

“This injunction is a welcome deterrent that means our Police forces can focus on directing resources to where they are needed most, such as tackling serious and organised crime and supporting victims.”

Ms Townsend also praised the response of Surrey Police to the protests and thanked “the cooperation of the Surrey public in ensuring key routes were reopened as soon as was safely possible”.

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