More than 100 Extinction Rebellion (XR) protesters used vehicles and bamboo lock-ons to block roads outside the Newsprinters printing works at Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, and Knowsley, near Liverpool on Friday 4 September.
By Saturday morning, police said some 30 people had been arrested.
Under a banner reading “Free the truth”, XR tweeted that it was using the disruption to expose the newspapers’ “failure to report on the climate & ecological emergency, and their consistent manipulation of truth to suit their own agendas”. The group said:
Coverage in many of the newspapers printed here is polluting national debate on climate change, immigration policy, the rights and treatment of minority groups, and on dozens of other issues.
Hertfordshire Police assistant chief constable Owen Weatherill earlier said officers were “working to facilitate the rights of both the protesters and those affected by their presence”. But he said protesters weren’t co-operating. Merseyside Police tweeted on Saturday 5 September that 17 people had been arrested at the Knowsley plant and officers were still in attendance.
XR protesters also held a smaller demonstration near Motherwell aimed at disrupting the distribution of Saturday’s Scottish Sun newspaper.
17 people have been arrested during a protest at the News International at #Knowsley Industrial Park, which began at about 10pm last night. Officers remain at the site where the protest is ongoing pic.twitter.com/rAMQM3YBUM
— Merseyside Police (@MerseyPolice) September 5, 2020
MPs not happy
Ministers and MPs have criticised environmental protesters for targeting two News Corporation printing presses and delaying the delivery of Saturday newspapers.
The Newsprinters presses publish the Rupert Murdoch-owned News Corp’s titles, including the Sun, the Times, the Sun on Sunday and the Sunday Times, as well as the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, and the London Evening Standard.
Readers of the Sun and the Times were told on Twitter that the protest action could mean delayed deliveries of papers to newsagents on the morning of Saturday 5 September.
Reacting on Twitter, home secretary Priti Patel said:
This morning people across the country will be prevented from reading their newspaper because of the actions of Extinction Rebellion.
This attack on our free press, society and democracy is completely unacceptable.
Meanwhile, Labour’s shadow international trade secretary Emily Thornberry told Times Radio on Saturday morning:
This is very worrying and I don’t really know what it is that is expected to be achieved and I know that for many older listeners it’s very much part of their daily life, getting their paper delivered in the morning, and I just think it’s wrong.
Speaking to the same radio station, Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood claimed XR had “lost sight … of how to campaign” on a “very important issue”. He also said:
The Government has done much itself but obviously could do more and we need to work with the people to get that message across so we all can be more aware of the carbon footprint that we create.
But what they’re doing here is to alienate more people. I fear the organisation itself has been hijacked.
The Conservative Party’s approach to the climate in recent years has been described as “more dangerous than one of open denial”. Academic Abby Innes wrote in 2019:
In the light of the recent climate protests the Conservative government insists that the UK is a world leader in climate change policy, but this is no longer true. Conservative governments since 2015 have systematically dismantled the policies put in place under the Climate Change Act of 2008 and increased public spending on fossil fuels.
And also that:
The Extinction Rebellion and School strikers have attended to the science and are striving to act responsibly at a time when we are realistically the last generation that can act to prevent runaway climate change. The burning question for all of us is this: at what point will government join them?
The media has also been described as “failing on climate change”. Other sources have criticised the “statistical shenanigans” of ‘sceptics’ employed in the British media who conduct campaigns to present “readers with a distorted picture of the evidence for climate change”.
Climate change protesters have been warned they risk a large fine if they fail to comply with coronavirus (Covid-19) rules banning gatherings of more than 30 people. The Met Police said risk assessments explaining how XR activists were minimising the possibility of coronavirus transmission at a planned march in Westminster “did not meet the required standard”.
The force said XR’s latest round of demonstrations “pose a risk, not only to those involved, but to the wider public and communities of London”.
On 5 September, a procession of activists that set off from Brighton on foot a week ago is due to march the final stretch to parliament. They have been banned from taking a 20ft model boat named after teenage activist Greta Thunberg to the streets of Westminster.
Hertfordshire Police earlier said delivery lorries had not left the Broxbourne site as of 6am on 5 September, with 17 arrests made.
The force previously said officers were called to Great Eastern Road near the Broxbourne plant around 10pm on 4 September. Upon arrival, they found around 100 protesters who had “secured themselves to structures and one another”. Newsprinters condemned the protests as an “attack on all of the free press” which had affected workers going about their jobs, and others such as newsagents who face a “financial penalty”.
The company said it had transferred printing to other sites. But it said that delays would occur in some deliveries of the Sun, the Times, the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph, and the Financial Times.
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