New crimes added to Policing Bill as government targets environmental protest

The protest tactic of locking on – used as far back as the Suffragettes – could become a criminal offence under new changes to the Policing Bill.

Lock-on protest outside the Horse Hill site in Surrey, 10 December 2019. Photo: Used with the owner’s consent

The proposal is one of several amendments inserted by the government as the already-controversial measure goes through the House of Lords.

The government proposes to make it a criminal offence for a person to attach themselves to another person, to an object or to land, if it causes, or may cause, serious disruption to two or more individuals or an organisation.

The bill now also includes a new offence of being equipped to lock on.

Another new offence of obstructing major transport works has been proposed.

The policing monitoring organisation, Netpol, said this would “specifically criminalise people who impede the construction and/or maintenance of major transport works, including any actions which interfere with machinery and work”.

These new crimes would have a penalty for anyone found guilty of a fine or up to 51 weeks in prison.

The revised bill also proposes increasing the existing penalties for obstructing the highway to bring them into line with the new offences. The current penalty is a fine of up to £1,000 but the new bill introduces a heavier maximum sentence of either a fine or 51 weeks in prison.

The 51-week sentences would be reduced to six months because provisions in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 have not been brought into force.

The amendments also include an expansion of stop and search powers for police at protests.

This would give officers the power to search people if they believed they were planning to lock-on, carrying lock-on equipment or obstruct transport works.

New “suspicionless” stop and search powers have also been proposed to deal with protests. These would allow officers to conduct searches in allocated areas for up to 24 hours if they suspected anyone in the area was planning a ‘lock on’.

Netpol said:

“Under the new powers, a senior officer at, for example, an oil or gas drilling site, could authorise police to search anyone in that locale for lock-on equipment, and allow them to seize any items they deem “prohibited objects” without needing to justify their actions.”

Climate march through Glasgow, 6 November 2021. Photo: COP26 Coalition/Oliver Midea

Serious Disruption Prevention Orders

There are also more details on Serious Disruption Prevent Orders, designed to stop people from committing further “protest-related offences”, breaching injunctions or helping others to do so.

Under the proposals, courts can apply an order if they reasonably believed that on two or more occasions in a five-year period a person carried out activities related to a protest that resulted, or were likely to result in, serious disruption to two or more individuals or an organisation.

Netpol described the orders as “alarmingly draconian”. It said people need not have been found guilty of any “protest related offence” to be placed under an order.

“The effect of these Orders, if introduced, could be to ban political organisers from attending, organising, or promoting protests seen as “disruptive to two or more individuals or to an organisation” for two years or more, even if they have never been convicted of a crime.”

The organisation said:

“Anyone who has organised with a direct action group or participated in a large-scale protest could be at risk.”

Netpol said Serious Disruption Prevention Orders could require people to report to police stations. They could also ban people from:

  • attending protests
  • going to particular places at particular times,
  • associating with particular people
  • having particular items, such as superglue or D-locks
  • “using the internet to facilitate or encourage persons to commit protest-related offences”

Greenpeace said the changes could “effectively ban ordinary people from participating in peaceful protests and restrict their freedom of movement”:

“From women’s right to vote, to the end of Apartheid in South Africa – throughout history change has come from protest and people mobilising together for progress. Today is no different with the youth climate activists like Fridays For Future.”

More than 600,000 people have already signed a petition to scrap the entire Police Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill.

The measure has reached its report stage in the House of Lords. Sittings are planned in December 2021 and January 2022.

8 replies »

  1. “Under the new powers, a senior officer at, for example, an oil or gas drilling site, could authorize police to search anyone in that locale for lock-on equipment, and allow them to seize any items they deem “prohibited objects” without needing to justify their actions.”

    This Bill is anti-democratic. We sanction this at our peril. It will not suffice to sit around, grumble and wait for the next election in the hope that the enormity of what is planned has permeated the consciousness of our fellow citizens to the extent that they will remember it and vote this ghastly regime out.

    From a letter in the Guardian in 2016 – “Certainly, the more closely we approximate to North Korea, the more in control we shall feel.”

    • “Under the new powers, a senior officer at, for example, an oil or gas drilling site, could authorize police to search anyone in that locale for lock-on equipment, and allow them to seize any items they deem “prohibited objects” without needing to justify their actions.”

      Good, lock-on’s, glue-on’s etc. need to be prevented to allow people / companies to go about their lawful business.

      North Korea? They will just shoot you – a bit like the Netherlands?


      • “North Korea? They will just shoot you – a bit like the Netherlands?”
        That was rather the point!
        If you wish to empower the police to search you on a whim, without needing to justify their actions, I would respectfully suggest that you are in a minority. As for me, when demonstrating, I rather admired the courtesy and self-control of the police – not invariably, but usually in my experience – and am fairly sure that few of them would relish such powers, powers which go far beyond searching for lock-on equipment. But perhaps you prefer a heavy-handed approach, until such time as it might affect you personally, no matter how uneasily this sits with serving police officers or with democracy..

        • I would have no issue with police searching me. I would have nothing to hide. If that helped them do their job, and I was paying towards them doing their job, why would I want to impinge their ability to do it?
          Goodness, I had French police searching me and my wife before we could enter the stadium to watch rugby in Paris. We could have refused, and we would have missed the match. They didn’t confiscate my brandy, but maybe if it had been scotch it would have been different!
          No, we were not in a minority. Every person was searched, none seemed to mind. Indeed, all I spoke with felt more secure the police were doing their jobs. The police seemed quite happy as they would get to see the match when they had completed their tasks.

          Same happens at airports, but not usually with the police. Haven’t seen too many people minding. People are usually quite accommodating with a little inconvenience to prevent something much worse, apart from a few who need preventing. In a world where the something much worse was absent then it would be different, but unfortunately some seem to want to impose the something much worse.

    • I am not sure this power to search is a big issue if you plan to glue yourself to whatever you do not agree with ( be it solar farms or oil terminals). The vast majority of such sites do not have a police presence at them so anyone can rock up and glue on. If they advertise that they are going to do it or maybe go to goad the police for their own amusement, then they only have themselves to blame.

  2. This government is now abusing its powers by using them to criminalise the very people who elected it. No doubt the police are rubbing their hands and slavering with anticipation at the thought of being able to assault and jail anyone who dares interrupt their lives by caring about something – far better than only being able to threaten prison to those expressing concerns over the safety of a 6 year old child. The government are determined to control every facet of our lives and every uncensored thought. Their’s is the recipe for mass insurrection.

  3. No, Jules, their’s is a recipe for allowing the majority not to be deliberately bullied and intimidated by a minority, who use police presence and the law to protect themselves from the ire of the majority.
    Strange that the law is utilized to stop mass insurrection against those doing the bullying and intimidation, yet it is somehow also an inconvenience to have it beefed up.

    I would suggest the slavering police would much rather be spending their time protecting the very people, rather than having to deal with such matters. The very people who pay their taxes would certainly like the police to be able to spend more time dealing with county lines and patrolling streets. That would be a Priti good recipe.

    • The police may, individually, prefer to be locking up people who are a danger to society, but unfortunately the country is run by a criminal gang who see themselves as above the law, and wish to suppress the voices of those who want a survivable future. If you believe that this government is serious about tackling climate crisis I fear that you are sadly mistaken. Nixon coined the term ‘silent majority’ to justify his suppression of dissent, but when we are subject to the waffle of bought politicians and propaganda with a massive budget it is difficult for people to devote the energy to finding the truth. Many, like you, believe the ‘business as usual’ nonsense. It’s sad really, given the evidence assembled over the last few decades.

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