Tuesday, March 5, 2024
HomePolicingProtests in London spark discussions around policing disruptions

Protests in London spark discussions around policing disruptions

Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Mark Rowley said Tory Deputy Chairman Lee Anderson had only a “partial understanding of the law” as he was questioned by the senior MP at Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee on what the Met was doing to tackle disruptive eco-protests.

Talking about protesters in the Parliament Square, Mr Anderson said: “Do you think it’s time that you left the ivory tower, get out there and sort these people out?

“Because people in London, the tourists, the people working at this place, they are getting fed up of it. And you are just letting it happen. You’ve got the powers now to do this.”

“You can move these people on. They are obstructing the highway.”

The Met Chief Sir Mark Rowley responded “We could have a long conversation about what we call the law. You’re making selective comments based on a partial understanding of the law.

“I don’t want the Londoners disrupted any more than anybody else does. But the law is very clear that protest is disruptive and to a certain extent, that is allowed. That is what the law says at the moment.

“You might not like that. But I have to work to the law rather than win. It is right.

“You might want to believe that the law says that no disruption is allowed whatsoever through the protest, but that is not the case.”

Rowley denounced the “personally offensive” attacks and said: “I am not going to sit here… If people want to be personally offensive, then write it in newspapers, but I’m not going to answer those questions.”

Ben de Pear, a TV journalist, commented on the exchange saying: “Good for Mark Rowley; it takes a policeman citing the law to bring an MP disregarding it to remind us all we live in a democracy.”

Among many others, Eren Emin, a Met police officer and Chair of TPA, also commented on the exchange: “I have many words. But I will keep it at this….MP Lee Anderson has demonstrated why our Commissioner is the best person to lead us through change. The restraint, professionalism and courage demonstrated while faced with utter disrespect & slander is more than admirable.”

“A certain degree of tolerance to disruption of ordinary life is necessary”

Standing up against criticisms of the Met’s policing of eco-protests, which was found to be on the soft side, Sir Mark Rowley was referring to the law about the right to freedom of expression in a democracy.

As a Supreme Court decision given in June 2021 said, protesters can have a “lawful excuse” defence against the offence of obstructing a highway, even where they have used “deliberately physically obstructive conduct”.

“There should be a certain degree of tolerance to disruption to ordinary life, including disruption of traffic, caused by the exercise of the right to freedom of expression or freedom of peaceful assembly,” the majority ruling added.

“There must be an assessment of the facts in each individual case to determine whether the interference with article 10 or article 11 rights was ‘necessary in a democratic society’.”

The ruling was related to a group of protesters who blockaded the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) arms fair in London in 2017.

Just a few days ago, a Met officer was filmed giving a stern warning to a frustrated motorist, who was confiscating protesters’ banners and attempting to push them out of the road. The police officer’s standing ensured the degree of tolerance to disruption mentioned by the Supreme Court.

“Police in an unenviable position”

Festus Akinbusoye, Police and Crime Commissioner for Bedfordshire, commented on the Supreme Court decision in relation to these disruptions in London caused by eco-protests: “This Supreme Court ruling will likely place the police in a more unenviable position. The right to protest is enshrined in law and I support it (though it is not an unqualified right). However, I support the right of people to earn a living, and to go about their lawful business without being disrupted.

“I fear that more and more boundaries will be breached in the exercise of one civil liberty at the expense of another. This does not sit comfortably with me, though I respect the decision of the Supreme Court.”

Lynne Owens, Metropolitan Police Deputy Commissioner, said: “Neither I, nor our public order commanders or deployed officers have any desire to see Londoners disrupted. The law as it relates to Highway Obstruction has to now be considered in the context of this ruling.

“We wholly understand people’s frustration & aim to act swiftly & decisively when the legal tests are met.”

Meanwhile, more than 100 Met officers were deployed on the morning of 27 April to move all marches causing serious disruption out of the road.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Laurence Taylor said: “We completely understand the frustration caused by these disruptive protests.

“Police have responded quickly to a number of marches and imposed conditions.

“Prior to taking any enforcement action protesters moved out of the road.

“Should protesters continue to block the carriageway they should expect to be arrested.”

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