Metropolitan Police deputy Commissioner Sir Stephen House has defended yesterday’s London-wide ban imposed on Extinction Rebellion protesters.
“We are entitled to say ‘enough is enough’,” the deputy commissioner told members of the London Assembly police committee this morning, describing police behaviour as “completely reasonable and proportionate.”
The ban came in the form of a Section 14 order under the Public Order Act imposed on Monday evening, saying “any assembly linked to the Extinction Rebellion ‘Autumn Uprising’…must now cease their protest(s) within London (Metropolitan Police Service and City of London areas) by 21.00 hours on 14th October 2019”.
Announcing the order alongside action to clear protestors from Trafalgar Square, deputy assistant commissioner Laurence Taylor said the conditions had been imposed “due to the continued breaches of the Section 14 condition previously implemented (confining protests to Trafalgar Square), and ongoing serious disruption to the community.”
The action was not a blanket ban on protest, Sir Stephen told the committee. “We are not saying that people cannot demonstrate across London. We are also not saying to Extinction Rebellion or any other group that you cannot protest on climate change, which is clearly a massive issue of public concern.
“We are not saying to Extinction Rebellion that you cannot protest again in the future. What we are saying, in relation to this demonstration, it must now cease.
“We can’t have a situation where people are encamping in the middle of London, issuing out from there and carrying out unlawful actions and then going back there at night, having a meeting and deciding where to go the following day. That’s not acceptable in a society governed by law. We have to put an end to it.”
More than 1,400 arrests had been made, Sir Stephen said, adding that previous Extinction Rebellion protests in London had cost the police more than £16 million.
Sir Stephen was challenged by Siân Berry, Green Party candidate in next year’s mayoral election, as to whether the order was “proportionate to an immediate risk from the protests”.
Demonstrators had been told by police that to protest legally they should go to Trafalgar Square, she said. “People had a right to peacefully protest up to the point you issued the order. You made it illegal, at very short notice.”
Police had facilitated the protest in Trafalgar Square “for a couple of days” but had made it clear to protestors that they “couldn’t stay there for ever”, Sir Stephen said, adding that the decision to impose the order was an “operational police decision”.
As Berry left the meeting to speak at a further gathering in Trafalgar Square, Conservative Susan Hall offered thanks “on behalf of very many Londoners” to Sir Stephen. “Very many of us are very supportive of what you have done,” she said.
In a statement issued this morning Mayor Khan confirmed he was seeking further information from the Met about the Section 14 order and why it was necessary.
“I believe the right to peaceful and lawful protest must always be upheld,” he said. “However, illegal action by some protestors over the past eight days has put undue pressure on already overstretched police officers, and demonstrators should bear that in mind when considering any further action.”
OnLondon.co.uk is dedicated to providing fair, thorough, anti-populist coverage of London’s politics, development and culture. It depends on donations from readers and would like to pay its freelance contributors better. Can you spare £5 (or more) a month? Follow this link to donate. Thank you.