Priti Patel outlines plans to curb disruptive protests – they could lead to “unfair and arbitrary” arrests, say opponents

Courts will get new powers aimed at deterring disruptive protests, the home secretary announced this morning.

Priti Patel, 5 October 2021. Photo: Extract from video

In her speech to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, Priti Patel, announced increased maximum penalties for disrupting a motorway and a new criminal offence of interfering with key infrastructure, including roads, and railways.

If enacted, the plans could mean a conviction for obstructing a highway would change from a maximum of a £1,000 fine to an unlimited fine, six months imprisonment, or both.

New measures are also expected to target people with a history of disruption.

Kit Malthouse, the policing minister told Sky News this morning the government needed faster, asbo-style, criminal disruption prevention orders to stop protestors who “cross the line” between exercising their legal rights and disrupting critical infrastructure. In extreme cases, they could be banned from travelling to protests by a judge.

The police are also expected to get wider powers to stop and search activists for lock-on equipment often used in direct action protests.

11 protests by Insulate Britain, which is calling for the insulation of Britain’s homes by 2030, has led to traffic disruption in and around London in the past three weeks. There have been more than 300 arrests.

This morning, the prime minister described the campaigners as “irresponsible crusties”. Ms Patel said the actions were “the most self-defeating environmental protests that this country has ever seen”.

She said in her speech:

“I will not tolerate so-called eco-warriors, trampling over our way of life and draining police resources.”

Insulate Britain responded this morning:

“We remain more fearful of the loss of our country than we do of the home secretary. The law can be changed, punishments increased, our savings raided, we face being imprisoned.  But shooting the messenger can never destroy the message: our country is facing the greatest risk ever and our government is failing us.

“The government, of which Priti Patel is a part, will go down in history as cowards who did not have the guts to look reality in the face. They will go down in history as traitors who helped destroy this country because you did not face up to their responsibility to protect and lead.

“We have to come together otherwise we will die together. That is what Insulate Britain supporters are saying to the country as they sit in the roads day after day, calling on Boris to get on with job and insulate Britain. We are not going anywhere because there is nowhere else to go. The country is waiting to hear what the government has to say in response.”

The police monitoring group, Netpol, said the proposed increase in maximum sentencing for obstructing a highway was unlikely to deter campaigners.

“the poorly-conceived intention here is apparently to make it easier to hold particular detainees on remand until they are brought for trial, which the police cannot do right now because blocking a road is not considered a serious enough offence.”

The current law on obstructing the highway says an offence is committed only if someone blocks a road “without lawful authority or excuse”. Police and the courts are supposed to consider rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

Netpol said:

“Our worry is that by suddenly treating any inconvenience to traffic as a serious crime, the government is encouraging the police to make more arrests, more quickly, in circumstances that are unfair and arbitrary – the same outcome the new provisions in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill on shutting down “noisy protests” seem intended to achieve.”

On increasing stop and search powers, Netpol said this meant:

“anyone linked to a protest group that has used civil disobedience tactics will be liable to be stopped and searched on their way to or during a demonstration, facing targeting and harassment by the police simply for wearing a badge or carrying a protest banner that identifies them as a campaigner – regardless of whether they are engaged in direct action or not.”

The human rights lawyer, Adam Wagner, said of the criminal disruption prevention orders:

“This is a highly illiberal measure. Preventing people exercising their free-speech rights in advance because they are ‘disruptive’ is fraught with risk for a democratic society.”

The measures are expected to be added to the Police, Crime, Courts and Sentencing Bill. This has already been opposed in and outside parliament.

Insulate Britain campaigners at the Royal Courts of Justice, 5 October 2021. Photo: Insulate Britain

Insulate Britain was at the Royal Courts of Justice in London this morning to oppose an injunction against protests by its activists on the M25 and at the port of Dover. Another two injunctions have been granted to the Highways Agency.

The court heard that 111 activists had been served with injunctions. The case was adjourned to next week after government lawyers said arguments on all three injunctions should be heard together.

Before the hearing, Insulate Britain spokesperson Liam Norton apologised for disruption caused by the group’s protests. He said the actions would continue “until the government made “a meaningful statement indicating that they will insulate all of Britain’s 29 million homes by 2030”.

Mr Norton said:

“As soon as we have a meaningful statement we can trust, we will call off the campaign. That is all we ask.

“But, if our government believes that our acts are outrageous and illegal, that there is no right of necessity to cause disruption, to prevent the far greater destruction of our economy and way of life, then it has a duty to act decisively.”

10 replies »

  1. In all the signficant media coverage of this issue, I haven’t heard a single suggestion from govt that it could actually be sorted by making some commitment to effectively insulate the homes and businesses that urgently need it. That would have the added effect of greatly improving fuel poverty and the nation’s energy requirements by REDUCTION IN CONSUMPTION. The last two ill-conceived schemes were ditched in fairly short measure, with no replacement in sight.
    Quote ‘Kit Malthouse, the policing minister told Sky News this morning the government needed faster, asbo-style, criminal disruption prevention orders’ Does asbo-style mean that in reality, nobody will actually be bothering with them or enforcing them?
    Given the current rate of investigating, charging and convicting assault and rape cases against women, would enforcement of these latest plans from Priti Patel mean that it would be a far more serious crime to block a road for a short time?

  2. So, “opponents” are not supportive!! Shock/horror-they wouldn’t be opponents if they were.

    Sorry, but I support Priti. My house is fully insulated, unlike the houses of some of the activists. Why should I be stopped by them? Why should ambulances and people driving to an urgent hospital appointment be stopped? These are the very people that the protestors are expecting to pay for the insulation via their taxes-not the Government. No chance now. If the public are being requested to do something how about persuading them to do so rather than threats?

    The argument of a greater good is not valid. A line has been crossed, so now the consequences. Don’t blame someone else for the consequences of your own deliberate actions. Would robbing a bank be okay if the reason was given that money was needed for insulation?

    [Edited by moderator]

    • ‘Opponents’ of what? Effective insulation of homes?
      You seem to have avoided answering any point made or question asked in my post.
      Yes, I’ve heard all the rants and some are clearly justified. I’m not defending their actions, merely pointing out that it could be stopped by effective govt policy.

      • It would be interesting to see how Insulate Britain think their objectives can be effectively achieved? It is not simple to insulate pre-WW2 (or some post war) housing stock effectively whereby heat pumps, especially air sourced, will work. It is certainly not cost effective and often leads to major damp and condensation problems. The UK has some of the oldest housing stock in Europe, mostly due to the fact that other European countries lost their houses in the war and had to rebuild. I fully agree that new builds should be designed to higher standards and forced to include effective insulation and renewable heating and electricity schemes.

        Why should the tax payer fund house insulation?

        With regard to this article I agree 100% that the Police and courts should be given more powers to fine and lock up these selfish protestors, XR and IR etc. Their protests backfire, they lose public support, and soon we will see more effective action from members of the public in removing them unless the Police / courts can do it within the law. Similar to the idiots who were climbing on tube trains some time ago – the public sorted that out and it wasn’t repeated.

      • The “opponents” referenced the headline, Mike. Sorry if that was too difficult to grasp.

        If I answered the “points” in your post, Mike, I might need to point out that the sentences for rape are being increased significantly, so your point about a far more serious crime is totally invalid. That issue is mainly about the lack of urgency to conduct a prosecution, that needs more rapid methods of collecting and presenting evidence. The seriousness of the crime has been dealt with within legislation. Perhaps, when the police are given the time to concentrate on such matters, together with the courts-instead of dealing with protestors-it may benefit women?

        A lot of things can be stopped by spending tax payers money, Mike-you call it govt. policy- however, I would suggest the Government prioritises spending money on things that the public buy into. These individuals have just sacrificed that.

        Perhaps many will look at their growing energy bills and ask what are they already paying for within those energy bills that is not directly related to the cost of gas or electricity and also question whether a further surcharge should be added? Because that is the reality, Mike, and I would suggest this winter will not be the time for much sympathy towards another addition. Unless you want to remove some of the renewable subsidies, to compensate?

        I do remember the glee with which some on DoD referenced the oil price slump during Covid, and thought to myself, how do they think that will be recovered as the pandemic wanes? Here “we” are. Priorities will be considered. NHS/Social Care or insulation? Well, I have the latter, so I much prefer the former.

  3. These hooligans are doing a good job of turning people off sensible green initiatives.
    People feel strongly about many different causes. If they all take to blocking roads the only result will be chaos.

  4. She called environmental activists “offenders”. Do people think judges will apply the new higher penalties? We found in North Yorkshire sentences got less not more as the campaign progressed.

  5. If the system works, Caroline, the sentences should reflect the crime. Each individual should be assessed by the legal system with reference to their offence. If environmental activists break the law they are offenders, by definition. Bank robbers are not excused from being offenders if they are anti capitalists.

    Maybe as time goes on, offenders get more street wise in how to avoid the full consequences? This happens in all sorts of legal situations. When it gets too much then the law is tweaked to keep in step. Perhaps any sort of activists should consider their own actions and what that will mean for other activists if they cause that tweaking?

    • At the end of the day protest is supposed to cause disruption. At present we have a right to protest. I have never blocked ordinary citizens from accessing a road especially ambulances and the like, I still got arrested and i was content to accept the law’s verdict. Ordinary citizens even when they are extremely verbally offensive to me are not my target . Targets are polluting and dangerous industry and practices and I reserve the right to shout at racists, homophobes and Tories. To quote a friend waving a placard at the side of the road does nothing. When will people realise that restricting “offenders”, restricts them also. More stop and search don’t wear a beard then. More stop and search don’t wear feminist symbols, More stop and Search don’t wear a rainbow…. Don’t stand in a park to protest a murdered young woman. The only reason the pictures at the Sarah Everard protest showed Police being very violent was because the assumed the cameras were not filming as they were un-attended. Your starter for ten, what level of awfulness will cause you to protest, Granny culling?, they’ve already tried that.

  6. Oh, I have protested in my time, Caroline. It is not a new occupation. But, then when I protested it was about persuading the wider public to support what I was protesting about, not to cause the wider public disruption. The two are incompatible, as the wider public also have their rights to do things.

    The Greenham Common women found a way to protest and get their message across to the wider public, including locals. Swampy and his pals didn’t achieve either. I lived in Newbury at the time. The difference in impact of both groups was very obvious. Doesn’t mean that opinion was changed, but one group obtained fairly good engagement, the other did not.

    If you wish to shout at people then perhaps your communication skills are not what they should be?

    And, if you are content to accept the law’s verdict, what is the problem with the law being applied? It will apply to all. If you don’t like the law then you can vote for someone who would not apply the law. However, if the law has been applied because a group has clearly overstepped a line that most of the voters think should not have been stepped over, then you can continue to shout.

    Granny culling? Hmmm. Fuel poverty already does that. Dr. Shipman did his bit. What about baby culling? There is a case being prosecuted at the moment. Should I protest, should I withdraw my NHS claps? Would my protest change the awful reality for those families? Should I march in support of the police who have helped to enable the prosecutions, and cause some disruption otherwise others will not appreciate how I feel?

    Perhaps if police and courts had less arrests to deal with from activists they could concentrate upon other crimes? More policing of streets doesn’t happen if they are somewhere else with cans of solvents.

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