Police Accused Of Enabling Extinction Rebellion Newspaper Blockade
Police have been criticized for failing to halt a demonstration intended to stifle the freedom of the press as Extinction Rebellion was accused of crossing the line “from protest to planned criminality”.
The condemnation came as it emerged warnings the group – known as XR – was planning to target newspaper printworks were reported nine months ago.
David Blunkett, the former Labour home secretary, said the anarchic behavior of the protesters should have been quashed quickly by Hertfordshire Constabulary, which apparently sent only six officers to the Broxbourne plant when the alarm was raised shortly after 10 pm on Friday.
Asked about the failure of police to remove more than 100 demonstrators who had sat down in the road or chained themselves to infrastructure, Mr. Blunkett said: “I think they’re mixing up historic debate about [union] picketing with protests relating to political issues, which can be dealt with through the normal democratic process.”
He said officers should have used “whatever powers were available” to allow people to go about their business.
Meanwhile, Richard Walton, a former head of the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command and now a senior fellow at Policy Exchange, said the group had shifted from mere protesters into organizing “planned criminality and should be treated as such”.
He urged police to get better at gathering intelligence to uphold the law and intervene “before such acts of criminality”.
“Their reticence to do so undermines our democracy and strengthens extremist groups like XR,” he said.
Ian Austin, a Labour MP, said: “The police should uphold the law, enable people to go to work and read the papers they choose.
At around 10 pm on Friday, nearly 200 activists targeted printing presses at Broxbourne and Knowsley near Liverpool. A small group held a demonstration outside another print factory near Motherwell in Scotland.
No warning about the demonstrations had been made with the local police. Within minutes staff at Broxbourne dialed 999. However, Donnachadh McCarthy, XR spokesman at the Broxbourne demonstration, said only six officers attended at around 10.15 pm.
A force spokesman said no intelligence about the protests was received. She refused to say how many police were initially sent or the total number eventually in attendance. She confirmed other southeast forces – including the Met – were summoned to help.
Hertfordshire’s Chief Constable Charlie Hall was informed and “immediately” went to headquarters. A total of 48 protesters were removed by mid-morning on Saturday. There were 42 arrests.
Merseyside Police also refused to say how many officers went to the Knowsley presses after the 10.30 pm alert on Friday.
Due to the smaller nature of that protest – there were 30 arrests – no neighboring force was called in for support.
It is understood that no activists or organizers had been fined up to £10,000 for breaching rules meant to prevent gatherings of 30 or more people during coronavirus restrictions.
Although many protesters were seen wearing masks, there appeared little attempt to avoid close contact with fellow activists and police. …
Despite claiming to be climate change protesters, many activists said they were against the perceived political stance of some newspapers.
One XR statement said the action was about racism, as well “immigration policy, the rights, and treatment of minority groups and dozens of other issues”.
The shift was seen by many as making XR a political movement, rather than a campaign group.
Asked where Hertfordshire Constabulary stands on the right to protests versus freedom of speech, the force issued a statement which reads: “The rights to protest are well established in this country and we remain committed to facilitating peaceful protest and ensuring compliance with the law.”
XR plans to target the media began in October last year, said Mr. McCarthy who also writes a column for The Independent.
It wanted maximum disruption to papers published by Rupert Murdoch, Telegraph Media Group and Daily Mail and General Trust.
A document obtained by a Sunday newspaper last December showed organizers spotted how “vulnerable” Broxbourne was because it had only one exit leading to a busy road.
However, the demonstration planned for April this year was canceled due to the COVID lockdown.
“The Great March for Truth & Blockade said: “The [Broxbourne] plant has only one exit road leading to the A10, which makes it very vulnerable to a mass blockade.
“This would block almost all national newspapers for the South of England from being delivered from this plant.
“The disruptive impact of the capital and entire south of the country waking up to almost empty newspaper stands would send a shock through the system, as a wake-up call to the seriousness with which the media needs to take the crises.”
They hoped to maintain the blockade for at worst 12 hours or run it “continuously” for three days of the weekend.
It concedes it would require “high-risk, arrestable, undercover operations”.
Perhaps ironically, it even suggests printing its own newspaper to fill empty newspaper stands.
Mr. McCarthy, who was a co-author of that report, insisted he was not an organizer of the latest demonstration despite being at Broxbourne.
The emergence of the pamphlet came in a year when Scotland Yard was forced to spend £37 million on policing XR demonstrations.
This weekend’s demonstration far exceeded last year’s proposed plans, suggesting lockdown had provided an opportunity for organizers to galvanize support and plan how to maximize their disruption.
Read rest at The Telegraph
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