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Activism

Policing Extinction Rebellion protests cost the Met over £10million

Campaigners are warning a new law will lead to mass arrests.

The police operation during Extinction Rebellion’s April protests cost the Met over £10million, new figures have revealed.

Over 200 people were arrested during the London rebellion, which was deliberately less disruptive, and saw the group drop a banner from Tower Bridge, block Oxford Street, and climb on top of oil tankers.

The sums are less than the costs for previous XR rebellions, but raise concerns from campaigners over how police handle peaceful protests.

“There’s always a risk with the cost of policing protests that this becomes an argument about whether protests are a ‘waste of money’ needing even greater restrictions, when in practice the police have a legal duty to both facilitate and protest the right to freedom of assembly,” said Kevin Blowe of police monitoring group Netpol. 

“The more important question is why the Metropolitan Police is so willing to allocate too many officers and so many resources for protest movements that are avowedly non-violent.

“One reason is that government ministers have made the pursuit of disruptive demonstrations a test of strength, one that helps them avoid engaging with their inaction over the climate emergency.  

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“Our view is that a great many arrests are unfair, disproportionate and intended more to disrupt the effectiveness of demonstrations and impose order, rather than deal with specific crimes.”

Extinction Rebellion
April’s rebellion included an “END FOSSIL FUELS NOW” banner being dropped from Tower Bridge. Image: Extinction Rebellion

During the 10 days of the rebellion, from April 8 to 18, the Met Police incurred £10.1m in costs, including £7.4m in opportunity costs, and £1.9m in overtime, with a total of 15,936 shifts worked.

April’s action was less high-profile than other mass Extinction Rebellion protests, with a focus on outreach and explaining the group’s aims to the public after a period of relative calm during the pandemic.

This was borne out in the costs. The Met’s operation in November 2021 cost it £18m, and in Autumn 2019 at least £21m. Policing XR’s April 2019 protests cost the force £16m.

“As long as the government makes a choice to refuse to listen or debate the impending climate crisis, we are likely to see the Met throw policing resources at intelligence-gathering, surveillance, the deployment of too many officers and the consequent, unjustifiable arrests,” said Blowe. 

“This is not about tackling crime. This is about undermining the legitimacy of a movement that opposes the government with the only tactics that seem to make any difference – direct action and civil disobedience.”

XR say the police presence was markedly smaller than previous years. And spokesperson Nuala Gathercole Lam said the costs to police are smaller than the costs of failing to take climate action.

“There are obvious steps that the government could take to begin to adapt to and mitigate the climate crisis. One of those is to stop funding new fossil fuel projects,” said Lam.

“The costs of failing to take those steps is hugely higher than the costs of policing protests”.

There were a total of 214 arrests, the vast majority under the Public Order Act and for obstructing the highway. During the protests, one arrest was made for possession of a knife, and one for assault on police – although it is not clear that these were members of XR.

Just 20 of those arrested have been charged so far – with 190 released under investigation.

This tactic can leave activists waiting for months to find out if they will be charged, said Netpol’s Blowe, and is likely to change now that the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts act is in force.

“The recent Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act has made blocking a road a more serious offence and provisions within the Act will also encourage less release under investigation and far more use of pre-charge bail conditions. 

“Although pre-charge bail  does have time-limits, our concern is that this actively encourages the use of mass arrests and will lead to severe restrictions on whom campaigners can meet with or whether they can participate in protests in a large area, potentially the whole of London – just as it has done in the past.”

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