London police face criticism and resistance over ‘heavy-handed’ ban on protests

Extinction Rebellion Policing
Ed Sykes

Police are facing growing criticism and resistance over a “heavy-handed” London-wide ban on climate crisis protests.

‘Police protecting the banks’

The Metropolitan Police imposed conditions under Section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986, requiring any protest assembly in the capital to cease by 9pm on Monday. It claimed this was to “prevent serious disruption to the life of the community”. As of 5pm on Monday, police said there had been 1,445 arrests in connection with the eight days of Extinction Rebellion (XR) climate protests in London. Officers also made more than 90 arrests on Monday as protesters targeted the City of London, the capital’s financial district. Police moved in to clear Trafalgar Square on Monday evening, telling protesters to leave the site by 9pm or risk arrest.

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Some highlighted the significance of police making their move as activists set their sights on “the centres of power and capital”:

On Tuesday, Metropolitan Police deputy assistant commissioner Laurence Taylor argued that the protest ban was “entirely proportionate and reasonable”. He also said that using section 14 to limit the location and duration of protest action was “not unusual at all”, and that the measures had been applied during demonstrations over the jailing of far-right figure Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson) in August.

This highly controversial comparison to one side, the Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol) highlighted that the police were specifically targeting XR:

The group also highlighted inappropriate police practices:

“Extremely worrying”

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said: “This ban is completely contrary to Britain’s long-held traditions of policing by consent, freedom of speech, and the right to protest.” Shadow policing and crime minister Louise Haigh, meanwhile, stated: “This is a grotesque overreaction and extremely worrying attack on basic civil liberties.” Others also spoke out:

On Twitter, XR’s London branch labelled the clearing of protesters from the square as “an outrage”. It also tweeted: “Today, an unprecedented, political, decision has been taken to shut down peaceful protest calling out the government for inaction in the face of crisis.”

‘Invalid overreach’

Barrister Jo Maugham QC also spoke out, tweeting:

Human rights lawyer Adam Wagner, meanwhile, called the move “draconian and extremely heavy-handed”. He tweeted: “We have a right to free speech under article 10 and to free assembly under article 11 of the (annex to the) Human Rights Act. These can only be interfered with if the interference is lawful and proportionate. I think the police may have gone too far here.”

Allan Hogarth, head of advocacy and programmes at Amnesty International UK, said: “Imposing a blanket ban on Extinction Rebellion protests is an unlawful restriction on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly… This is a heavy-handed and unacceptable move by the Metropolitan Police. Certain disruption to ordinary life for protesting is natural, and it needs to be tolerated.”

It also seems that activists are already considering legal action:

Defiance

XR protests, meanwhile, are continuing in London despite police ordering activists to end their gatherings across the capital or risk arrest. On Tuesday morning, for example, XR co-founder Gail Bradbrook was filmed climbing the entrance to the Department for Transport in Westminster. Other protesters had glued themselves to the building.

Meanwhile, police dealt with a road block near Baker Street and told a number of protesters camped in Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens to move on or risk arrest. Activists were also seen gathering at Millbank and planned a rally back at Trafalgar Square at midday.

Under the current order, any assembly – classed as a gathering of two or more people – linked to Extinction Rebellion in London is unlawful. But with critics speaking loudly and clearly against the move, that may not be the case for long.

Featured image and additional content via Press Association

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