The Daily Telegraph

In­quiry into po­lice ‘fail­ure’ to use full pow­ers on XR protests

- By Charles Hy­mas Home Af­fairs editor and Martin Evans Crime · London · St Albans · Cressida Dick

PRITI PA­TEL has or­dered an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the po­lice’s “fail­ure” to use counter-protest pow­ers ef­fec­tively in the wake of Ex­tinc­tion Re­bel­lion’s block­ade of news­pa­per print­ing plants.

The Home Sec­re­tary has asked the chief in­spec­tor of po­lice to report on whether of­fi­cers are us­ing all the pow­ers they al­ready have to crack down on law-break­ing by Ex­tinc­tion Re­bel­lion and other mil­i­tant protest groups.

She has left open the door to giv­ing po­lice ex­tra pow­ers to take tougher ac­tion but re­mains to be con­vinced whether more dra­co­nian mea­sures are needed if the avail­able pow­ers are not be­ing used ef­fec­tively, say sources.

Ms Pa­tel is un­der­stood to be con­cerned that po­lice are fail­ing to charge protesters with pub­lic or­der of­fences that could merit a prison term.

Fifty-one XR protesters were charged with ob­struc­tion of the high­way af­ter block­ing roads to Brox­bourne, Herts, pre­vent­ing the pub­li­ca­tion of thou­sands of news­pa­pers. Un­like of­fences such as pub­lic nui­sance, which can carry jail sen­tences of three or more years, courts can only im­pose fines for ob­struc­tion of up to £1,000.

A fur­ther 49 were re­leased on bail on con­di­tion they did not go within 100 me­tres of the bound­ary of any Newsprint­ers Ltd premises or at­tend any XR protests in the next seven days. “It is clear that XR are a unique and new threat, but it is not clear that ex­ist­ing po­lice pow­ers are be­ing used ef­fec­tively against them. A lot were not charged with pub­lic nui­sance which has ex­isted for hun­dreds of years,” said a source.

“We have asked Sir Tom Win­sor [the HM chief in­spec­tor] to look at whether the po­lice are us­ing their ex­ist­ing pow­ers ef­fec­tively. Po­lice are ask­ing for some quite dra­co­nian pow­ers. We are not pre­pared to give them un­less there is a good rea­son to do so.”

Po­lice chiefs have been in talks with the Home Of­fice over pow­ers in­clud­ing greater re­stric­tions on “static” protests, a lower thresh­old for im­pos­ing con­di­tions on protests and stop-and-search pow­ers for items such as locks.

Dame Cres­sida Dick, the Metropoli­tan Po­lice Com­mis­sioner, has called for pub­lic nui­sance to be made a statu­tory of­fence, rather than com­mon law, which she says would pro­vide greater clar­ity for of­fi­cers. The Law Com­mis­sion rec­om­mended a sim­i­lar move.

The Home Of­fice is re­view­ing the threat by XR to na­tional in­fras­truc­ture af­ter Ms Pa­tel said the ac­tivists who block­aded the print sites should “face the full force of the law” for “guer­rilla tac­tics ... that seek to un­der­mine and cause dam­age to our so­ci­ety”.

A civil ser­vant was yes­ter­day fined £105 for his part in the protest that pre­vented mil­lions of news­pa­pers be­ing dis­trib­uted. Will Far­brother, 39, from Waltham­stow, east London, chained him­self to an­other pro­tester by stick­ing his hand into a tube filled with ce­ment. St Al­bans mag­is­trates’ court heard how po­lice ini­tially con­sid­ered the protest to be law­ful, and asked the demon­stra­tors if they would move. The cost to the prin­ters was es­ti­mated to be in ex­cess of £1.2 mil­lion.

‘Po­lice are ask­ing for some dra­co­nian pow­ers. We are not pre­pared to give them un­less there is a good rea­son’

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