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