The Daily Telegraph

Soft policing response out of step with public

- By Izzy Lyons, Robert Mendick and Mason Boycott-owen

From dancing with Extinction Rebellion (XR) activists to taking the knee at Black Lives Matter demonstrat­ions, officers have not hesitated in showing sympathy for the protesters they are meant to police.

This week’s events on the M25, where environmen­tal activists were twice able to block the busy motorway, are the latest incidents in a string of soft policing blunders during protests across the country.

Since May 2018, when XR burst on to the scene, numerous viral videos have shown officers helping protesters who have shut off busy roads and bridges rather than arresting them.

In one video from 2019, a Metropolit­an Police officer was filmed skateboard­ing on Waterloo Bridge as protesters blocked it for several days, preventing thousands of commuters from getting to and from work.

The incident, which was described as “disappoint­ing” by senior Met officers, came 48 hours after another video surfaced showing a handful of officers dancing with the XR crowd as thousands of its protesters shut down Oxford Street.

The video showed the officers fist pumping the air and dancing to chants of “we love you” as the climate activists blocked any buses, taxis, bikes or cars from travelling through the popular shopping district.

Metropolit­an Police Commander Jane Connors condemned the behaviour in the wake of the videos surfacing, saying: “I’m disappoint­ed by the video and the unacceptab­le behaviour of the officers in it.

“We expect our officers to engage with protesters but clearly their actions fall short of the tone of the policing operation at a time when people are frustrated at the actions of the protesters.” The Met also faced questions after an officer was filmed talking the knee with protesters outside 10 Downing Street in June 2020, when Britain’s streets were dominated by Black Lives Matter protests following the death of George Floyd in the US.

Meanwhile, officers in Hertfordsh­ire were criticised for failing to move on XR protesters who blockaded the printing presses of Britain’s biggest newspapers in Broxbourne last year.

Five activists who were charged with their involvemen­t in the incident told a court in May that police made little effort to move them on during an 11-hour stunt.

In March, the new approach to policing protests was criticised in a watchdog report, which ruled that

‘Police don’t always do enough to assess the impact that peaceful protests have on lives and businesses’

officers have been too soft on disruptive activists. HM inspectors said police had “too readily” tipped the balance in favour of the human rights of demonstrat­ors such as XR and Black Lives Matter against those of residents and businesses hit by disruption.

The report, led by Matt Parr, HM Inspector of Constabula­ry, said this put them out of kilter with the public who felt by a five-to-one majority that such disruption from protests was “completely unacceptab­le” and who by four-to-one backed a “zero tolerance” approach to damage.

“One of the things that has caused it to get out of kilter is that police don’t always do enough to assess the impact that peaceful protests have on the lives of local residents and businesses. So this has sometimes caused enormous disruption and has tipped the balance in favour of the protesters,” he said.

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