Protesters blocking main roads in central London have yet to cause major disruption despite “huge” police resources being mobilized to deal with the protests, the new Metropolitan Police chief has said.
Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley told the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee that officers must wait until the Just Stop Oil and Animal Rebellion protests are deemed to reach a legal threshold of major disruption before they can be stopped.
Its officers are in contact with Transport for London, local councils and emergency services several times a day to check on the level of disruption caused.
Sir Mark said: “Over the past 11 days, all of these partners have felt that this will not cause serious disruption.”
He continued: “As soon as we have proof that this severe disturbance is either crossed as a line or a good prospect of it being crossed, we will start to be more assertive with our powers.”
So far there have been 338 arrests, mostly of Just Stop Oil supporters, but also a few of Animal Rebellion.
Sir Mark said: ‘It’s been a really difficult operation in the 11 days so far. And it bothers me to see how much policing it takes away from local communities.
“In 11 days, we took 2,156 officer days to do this, so it’s about a few hundred a day.
“That’s a huge amount of police resources that doesn’t address issues that matter to local communities, doesn’t address knife crime, doesn’t address violence against women and girls.”
On Tuesday, Interior Minister Suella Braverman said she expected police to use the ‘full powers’ given to her by the government after fossil fuel protesters allegedly blocked a lorry firefighters and an ambulance.
Ms Braverman called the actions of Just Stop Oil protesters in west London ‘self-defeating’ and ‘completely indefensible’.
Videos shared online on Tuesday show a fire engine and ambulance with blue lights unable to drive through traffic after 32 protesters – some sticking to the road – blocked three roads in Knightsbridge and Brompton Road in London.
Just Stop Oil said it suspended its blockade to let a fire truck pass.
Sir Mark told the committee: ‘The law is very clear that the mere blocking of a road in itself is not automatically a serious disturbance and, although it does commit certain offences, in terms of obstructing the motorway, these are not actionable if it is a legal protest as long as it does not exceed reasonable limits.
“And those are the judgments that the police have to make all the time.
“The fact that I put 200 officers a day into policing, I’m not happy about it, it’s not good for the communities in London, frankly. But I have to work with the legal framework.
“I would like to be able to close them more quickly and devote less police resources to them at the moment, and as soon as partners who have the expertise to assess the impact on the road network and road services, as soon as they say that it’s heading for the crossing of the line, we’ll be there right now.
“But until then, I don’t have the legal authority to do so.”