Conservative London Assembly Members have clashed with Sadiq Khan and Metropolitan Police commissioner Cressida Dick over policing tactics during last month’s Extinction Rebellion protests, amid warnings that the climate change activists are planning further protests in the capital in the run up to Christmas.
It was time for the Mayor to “make clear that any future associated protests, which result in such large scale chaos and disruption, will be neither tolerated nor welcomed,” the Conservative Group demanded in a motion at yesterday’s London Assembly plenary session.
Commissioner Dick told the meeting that last month’s protracted protests had cost the Met £24 million, putting the total policing bill for Extinction Rebellion protests this year at £40 million, which she described as an “enormous amount of money to spend on a protest”.
Five hundred officers a day had been drafted in from 38 police forces outside London to support the Met, and a total of 1,832 protestors had been arrested, she said.
But while Dick highlighted the Met’s “professional and proportionate” approach to the protests, including her controversial Londonwide Public Order Act ban on further ones – now subject to judicial review – Tory AMs and others called for tougher action.
“For most Londoners there is a sense of utter frustration about the way this was allowed to pan out over two occasions,” said Brexit Alliance AM Peter Whittle, while his Tory colleague Susan Hall called on Mayor Khan to “stand up” for Londoners.
“They’ve made their point, and now they are going to ruin Christmas,” she said. “We should support the majority of Londoners. The Mayor needs to say ‘enough is enough’.”
Khan had been “slow to condemn” what was an illegal protest, Tory mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey added, urging the Mayor to ask the Extinction Rebellion group to postpone action at Christmas.
Protesters needed to keep within the law, Khan replied: “We have a climate emergency, but I’ve been quite clear to anyone who wants to protest in our city – make sure that you protest lawfully and peacefully.”
The motion was lost by 12 votes to three, with Bailey registering an abstention. “The only problem I have is with the unlawful part,” he said, later pledging to write to Extinction Rebellion himself.
Commissioner Dick confirmed that she had held discussions with the Home Office about possible changes to the law to allow more proactive policing. “I am determined not to allow protracted serious disruption in our city,” she said.
The meeting also heard from the commissioner that joint work with security services had seen 24 terrorist plots disrupted in the capital since April 2017, including eight planned by right wing extremists.
And she joined Khan in reporting “the green shoots of progress” in reducing violence in the capital, with levels of serious violence beginning to stabilise. “I feel optimistic that we will continue to bear down effectively,” she said.
While police numbers were going up, with 30,501 officers in post at the end of September, funding remained the Met’s biggest challenge, Khan said.
New officers were currently funded from City Hall budgets, he said, with the government so far not confirming how much extra funding London would receive, despite a promise of 1,300 additional officers next year – itself short of the 6,000 additional officers the Mayor had called for.
Finally, the meeting heard concerns from Labour AM Leonie Cooper about a significant rise in thefts of catalytic converters in London – 3,000 thefts in the first half of this year compared to just 173 in 2017. The exhaust mechanism contained valuable precious metals, the commissioner said, adding that discussions were underway with government and manufacturers to improve system security.
Watch the whole of the plenary session here.
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