The serious disruption the Extinction Rebellion demonstrations are causing to people in central London and beyond is unacceptable and we completely understand the concern it is causing to those who are disrupted by it.
Throughout the course of today, Thursday, 18 April, we will have had more than 1,000 officers on the streets policing the demonstrations. This is putting a strain on the Met and we have now asked officers on the boroughs to work 12-hour shifts; we have cancelled rest days and our Violent Crime Task Force (VCTF) have had their leave cancelled. This allows us to free up significant numbers of officers whilst responding to local policing. We would also like to reassure people that we have ring-fenced the VCTF so we retain the capacity to deal with any unrelated violent incidents. However, the protesters need to understand that their demonstration is meaning officers are being diverted away from their core local duties that help keep London safe and that this will have implications in the weeks and months beyond this protest as officers take back leave and the cost of overtime.
To explain further about our policing plan and the current situation:
We currently have illegal protests at Waterloo Bridge, Oxford Circus and Parliament Square, all those locations have hundreds of protesters demonstrating. In addition, we have legal protests at Marble Arch, which is the designated place that anyone wanting to protest should attend. We also have a number of smaller groups carrying out ad hoc protests across central London, blocking roads and bridges for perhaps five or ten minutes at a time. There is a boat that we believe to be bolted to the ground in Oxford Circus and two large trucks that have been disabled and have protesters either on top or glued to.
We have officers at these sites and arrest teams who are tasked with entering those fixed locations and making arrests. As you will know, there are Section 14 conditions in place that protests cannot take place in Parliament Square, Waterloo Bridge and Oxford Circus. In order to make an arrest protesters at those locations must be informed by police that they are in breach of the conditions. If they then ignore the condition or refuse to leave they can be arrested.
The protesters are using tactics that see them lying on the ground when approached by police. This means that it takes at least four officers to remove one person from a site to ensure their safety which is obviously resource intensive. Those arrested are then taken into custody which again means our officers are off the streets temporarily while that process takes place.
We have been asked why we are not using tactics such as containment - physically and forcibly stopping the protesters from moving around. The simple answer is we have no legal basis to do so. These are peaceful protesters; while disruptive their actions are not violent towards police, themselves or other members of the public. We are looking at other tactics such as tighter police cordons, but again that is resource intensive in terms of officer numbers and more often than not it just shifts the protesters to another location nearby, and does not assist in reopening roads.
However, we are taking action. Since Monday, 15 April, we have arrested more than 460 people, the large majority for breach of Section 14 and obstruction of the highway. Of those arrested, so far eight people have been charged with those offences. At this stage it is better for us to keep our resources and custody capacity moving and flexible than leave protesters sitting in cells for up to 12 hours before going to court for what, although highly disruptive, are lower level offences. So everyone else arrested has been released under investigation and will be brought back to be formally interviewed and charged as appropriate in due course. We are aware that means some protesters immediately return to the area to resume their activities; those people will be arrested again.
We have a robust policing plan in place, led by an experienced public order Commander, which as you would expect continues to evolve as the situation develops.
We are aware of information that suggests the protesters will carry out a demonstration on Friday, 19 April in the vicinity of Heathrow Airport. We have strong plans in place that will enable us to deploy a significant number of officers to Heathrow and take firm action against any protester seeking to cause disruption at this location by committing criminal offences such as obstruction of the highway. We have requested mutual aid from other police forces to support our operation. The airport is part of our national infrastructure and we will not allow the illegal activities of protesters to cause further disruption and misery to thousands of travellers, many of them families, over Easter. We would urge any protester planning to attend Heathrow to strongly reconsider.
Ultimately, the Met has a duty to balance the rights of those engaged in protest and who are acting within the law, against the needs and rights of Londoners to go about their daily lives with minimum disruption. Where people are not acting within the law we continue to arrest them, and we anticipate arrests continuing to rise. We are also working closely with partner agencies, Transport for London, British Transport Police, City of London Police, City of Westminster and the Mayor’s Office, as well as the business community.