Eco zealots who break the law should face fast-track prosecution

Eco zealots who break the law should face fast-track prosecution to stop them quickly rejoining roadblocks and protests, say top officers

  • The discussion took place at a meeting with Rishi Sunak and Suella Braverman
  • Chief constables argued that speeding up process will provide greater deterrent
  • Many Just Stop Oil activists who blocked motorways won’t face court until 2024

Protestors who break the law should face a fast-track prosecution, police chiefs demanded yesterday, as they bemoaned court delays of two years on average.

At a meeting in Downing Street with Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Suella Braverman to discuss the eco protests, chief constables asked that criminal justice processes are speeded up to provide a greater deterrent for offenders.

Separately, Scotland Yard Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley revealed yesterday that many Just Stop Oil activists who have spent months causing chaos on motorways will not face court until 2024. 

It meant they were able to quickly rejoin protests after being arrested, with police forced to release them on bail.

Protestors who break the law and cause chaos should face a fast-track prosecution, police chiefs demanded yesterday. Pictured: Just Stop Oil protestors bringing traffic to a standstill while marching through Highbury, Islington and Angel in North London

This map shows locations of recent Just Stop Oil protests that blocked ambulances and fire engines, prevented people getting to work and school and even seen some people miss family funerals

The chief constables said at the No 10 meeting they wanted a clearer legal definition of ‘serious disruption’, enabling them to make more arrests.

The Prime Minister said: ‘I sat down with the police chiefs to make it clear they have my full support in acting decisively to clamp down on illegal protests.’  

Sir Mark told the London Assembly: ‘Many of the rest (of the protestors), the trials are set for 2024 which isn’t desperately helpful, but that is just the symptom of current delays in the criminal justice system.’

He claimed locking up leaders of the Just Stop Oil group had made their tactics ‘much less assertive’.

Police watched as traffic was held up when an activist from Just Stop Oil occupied a gantry over the M25 near Godstone in Surrey on November 7

Earlier this week, Just Stop Oil protester Jan Goodey, 57, who caused tailbacks on the M25 after climbing up a gantry was jailed for six months after admitting causing a public nuisance.

‘What I’ve seen is that Just Stop Oil have got much less assertive in their recent protests – frankly, as a consequence of a large number of their leaders being remanded in custody as a result of our operations,’ Sir Mark said.

Yesterday, a group of chief constables including the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) Lead for Public Order BJ Harrington and the head of the College of Policing Chief Constable Andy Marsh attended a roundtable aimed at expediting prosecutions for protestors.

It comes after Staffordshire Chief Constable Chris Noble, who leads the NPCC on policing protests, said earlier this month that the law isn’t clear cut: ‘What is the job of policing protest? The law does not make it clear, it is a matter of judgement for the police.’

He said police were being damned either way, whether they are ‘too soft’ or ‘too robust’ on demonstrators.

Last month two Just Stop Oil activists appeared in court accused of throwing soup on a Van Gogh painting. Pictured: Anna Holland, 20, and Phoebe Plummer, 21

On June 30, two Just Stop Oil activists glued themselves to the frame Van Gogh’s 1889 painting Peach Trees In Blossom at the Courtauld Gallery and caused just less than £2,000 of criminal damage. Pictured: Louis McKechnie, 22, and Emily Brocklebank, 23

Senior officers now want a cross agency and departmental criminal justice working group to look at the issue.

Chief Constable BJ Harrington said: ‘There is a difference between protest and criminal activism. We are not anti-protest, but we are anti-crime. Police are committed to responding quickly and effectively to activists who deliberately disrupt people’s lives through dangerous, reckless, and criminal acts.

‘Over the past year we have made over a thousand arrests, significantly boosted our specialist officer numbers to deal with sophisticated lock-on methods and responded faster to criminal acts thanks to improved intelligence and proactivity.

‘We are fully prepared to deal with further disruption planned ahead of Christmas – acting quickly to minimise disruption for law-abiding members of the public.’

Over the past year, police have increased the number of specialist removal officers trained to remove demonstrators glued or locked onto motorway gantries and paintings by 63 per cent, with over 500 officers trained in ‘debonding’ and hundreds more are expert in removal from high places.

The College of Policing has also trained 230 Gold public order commanders, while more than 21,000 officers are trained in their force on public order.

During the M25 gantry activities, police made 65 arrests and 29 people have gone to prison for closing roads for up to two hours.

Chief Constable Andy Marsh, said: ‘Our priority is keeping the public safe and ensuring people can go about their daily lives. 

We want to ensure there is a nationally consistent approach and we have already made significant changes to training so that officers can remove those who attach themselves to buildings or objects, making sure our response is swift, balanced and pragmatic.’

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