EXCLUSIVE: Just Stop Oil protestors 'incredibly brave' for scaling M25 gantries - Green Party peer


JUST Stop Oil (JSO) activists are "incredibly brave" for scaling gantries on the M25 and bringing traffic to a standstill, a Green Party peer has claimed.

Baroness Jenny Jones said she had taken part in many protests but would not be able to do what the protestors, who staged four days of motorway action from Monday, had done.

They included JSO activist Louise Harris, 24, (above) who made headlines after an emotional "I have no future" speech about why she scaled a gantry was broadcast this week.

She said: "I think it's incredibly brave what they do. They don't try and escape arrest, they are actually happy to be accountable for everything they do and it's the same for Extinction Rebellion and insulate Britain these people have got a cause because they care about the climate emergency that's happening... it is coming at us like a steam train and we have to make it clear to all of society that it's happening."

Baroness Jones (below) said the action had raised the profile of the climate change debate.

She said: "I had load of media interviews to talk about climate change simply because of these tactics.

How else do you get it on the agenda when you have got a Government that does not understand it?"

Her comments were made in a debate on policing protests at the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC) and National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) summit in Westminster on Thursday.

During the debate, Staffordshire Police Chief Constable Chris Noble, (NPCC) lead on protests, said JSO activists were being helped by "top lawyers" who know "loopholes" to avoid them being charged or prosecuted.

The warning came as there were calls for protestors who cause significant disruption, such as bringing the M25 to a standstill, to be classed as organised criminals so assets can be seized.

It followed four days of action that closed parts of the motorway from last Monday after activists chained themselves to gantries.

Protestors were branded "reckless, selfish and stupid" and accused of "putting lives at risk" after an Essex Police officer was injured on Wednesday.

The group is demanding revocation of all new fossil fuel consents, but announced on Friday it had suspended its M25 action to give "time to those in Government... to consider their responsibilities."

Since October 1 the Met Police has arrested around 750 people suspected of taking part in disruption across the capital, but hundreds of them were later released on bail or with no further action.

Mr Noble said top lawyers were using confusion around current laws to try to get activists released without charge.

He said: "The protestors have access to some of the top legal minds in the country, so they know exactly what the law says and where the loopholes are."

He called for clarity around protest legislation, which the Government is trying to tighten through a proposed Public Order Bill.

He said: "The significant legislation came into force in the mid 1980s. Although some of the tactics have appeared before, the intensity and impact now is significant. We want current legislation to be clear in terms of definition, something capable of being enforced.

"Putting police officers and the public at risk is not brave. In my view it's dangerous, its stupid.. it's criminal and is being treated as such."

David Lloyd, Hertfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner, likened actions which prevented society going about its business as "a sort of terrorism."

Since October 1 the Met has charged around 160 of those arrested, with the majority released on bail, only for some to allegedly take part in further protests.

Only around 15 were remanded into custody, including JustStopOil and Extinction rebellion co-founder Roger Hallum, 56.

Across Essex, Kent, Hertfordshire, Surrey and London about 60 people were charged in connection with M25 disruption.

Matthew Scott, Kent Police and Crime Commissioner, said activists who closed the Dartford crossing by climbing it last month<Oct>risked lives by preventing patients and staff getting to Darent Valley Hospital.

He said: "There was disruption to the hospital with people not able to get to appointments and emergencies and the NHS trust asked for help because they needed their people to get into work.

"They are quite happy to have three months in prison and then go back out and do it again, so we need to hit them where it hurts and need them classified as organised criminal groups so their assets can be seized and they can be hit with unlimited fines."

Chris Philp, Policing Minister, called for the new bill to be passed by the House of Lords.

It seeks to criminalise tunnelling and "locking on" that causes "significant disruption" and the targeting of major infrastructure such as HS2, railways, airports and printing presses.

It also allows the stop and search of people for equipment to enable these acts to prevent disruptive protests before they start.

Mr Philp said: "They are extremely selfish to think their political opinion entitles them to endanger other people, ruin the daily lives of fellow citizens and prevent people getting to hospital."

He said police in south London told him they were not able to tackle knife crime or street gangs as they spent days ungluing people from a Zebra crossing, making London "less safe because of stupid protesters."

Donna Jones PCC for Hampshire said protestors in her area had been concreting themselves into wheelie bins and suggested the extreme measure of removing them from the highway and "leaving them at the side of the road."

Yet, police were also slammed for being heavhanded after three journalists covering last week's protests were arrested by Hertfordshire Police and later released without charge.

Baroness Jones warned no matter how many arrests were made more protesters would join the cause.

She said: "You can lock up as many protesters as you like, but there will be more because they are absolutely desperate."