Police on standby with 'rapid and effective response' if eco warriors try to disrupt London Marathon
POLICE say they are on standby with a "rapid and effective response" if Just Stop Oil (JSO) or other eco warriors try to disrupt today's London Marathon.
Temporary Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist, in charge of Met Operations, said he hoped they would not be needed, but a "range of contingencies and plans" were in place in case JSO or other groups try to hijack the 50,000 runner event that will be watched by 750,000 people as tens of millions of pounds are raised for charity.
His pledge came as a new survey found 61 per cent of people think groups like JSO are harming their cause with their tactics which have brought misery to people's lives and held up sporting events such as the World Snooker Championship in Sheffield last Monday when two JSO supporters climbed onto tables and threw orange paint over one.
Extinction Rebellion has engaged with the Met and pledged not to disrupt the event however day three of its four-day Big One event is entitled "Running out of Time" and between 10am and 3pm it intended "connecting with marathon spectators."
The first two days of the Big One passed relatively peacefully.
However, Just Stop Oil (JSO) refused to rule out a strike on the marathon saying it could not rule out further stunts at sporting events.
It is also planning multiple days of "slow marching" through London from Monday.
Mr Twist said: "Any plans they have with the marathon organiser are between them, but Extinction Rebellion has said it does not intend disrupting the marathon and I very much hope that is the case, but in case anybody else does we will see a rapid and effective response if anyone did try to disrupt it.
"At the moment we have not been able to engage with JSO although we have seen their media statements
"The marathon is not the only major sporting event on Sunday as we have got the FA Cup semi final between Brighton and Hove Albion v Manchester United at Wembley and have worked with the organiser to provide an effective police response.
"We are remaining alert and if people were set out with intent on committing crime, they will be dealt with quickly and effectively.
"We are prep for anything with a range of contingencies and plans to deal with anything that might conceivably happen at the marathon. We really hope that JSO, or any other group, does not seek to disrupt the marathon."
However, some former police officers fear the force will struggle to stop activists disrupting the event due to its scale.
An ex-police public order tactical advisor, who would not be named, said: "I think the police may have been too eager to facilitate the protests in the past which has empowered the protesters to take advantage.
"Protests are likely to be random but at key points of the race for maximum impact and news coverage.
"I suspect the territorial support group will be briefed as such and initially located at expected flash points. Someone at New Scotland Yard will have estimated the required number of officers but I can assure you it will never be enough as the nature of Extinction Rebellion and JSO protests will be decided on the day."
Philip Grindle, who served as a detective in the Met Specialist Operations Command for 30 years, said: "Usually the police would engage with the protest groups and ensure the route was agreed and an understanding of what would and wouldn't be tolerated. As I understand it, the protest group has stated it won't be engaging.
"There will be a heavy uniformed police presence, including horses/dogs etc with specialist support officers in the background. There will be evidence gathering teams deployed to capture any criminal acts for later arrest/prosecution.
"The tactics of XR/JSO are designed to cause maximum disruption and they don't care who they disrupt or upset. They are right, everyone else is wrong... is their view. I foresee mass disruption, violence and public disorder."
Just 14 per cent of people polled by Omnisis thought protesters were strengthening their cause while 19 per cent did not know.
Asked if all such protesters should be arrested and held overnight, 62 per cent said yes with 19 per cent against and the same number unsure.
Thirty six per cent of people thought they got preferential treatment by the justice system, with 34 per cent saying they were treated fairly and 25 per cent unsure.
Conservative MP Craig Mackinlay said: "For the eco-zealots now inhabiting JSO, Extinction Rebellion and other groups, while nominally having an agenda on climate change, it is increasingly clear they have a Marxist, anti-capitalist ambitions. Their targeting of national cultural icons and events has all the hallmarks of a year zero agenda.
"They could form a political Party to advance their ideas through the ballot box but prefer to destroy and destabilise the country and activities of normal people. What they are too stupid to see is that their illegal antics are putting the public off of what they claim to promote. They are nothing more than self-indulgent criminals.”
A National Police Chiefs’ Council Spokesperson said: “Policing welcomed the new powers granted under the Police Crime Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. The powers have already been used to great effect.
“The use of these powers has been ratified through the courts and we have seen notable convictions around Public Nuisance. We will continue to use powers and legislation to support the public and our officers to carry out our duties and prevent crime. We will continue to strike the balance in allowing lawful protest but not to the detriment of criminal acts being ignored.
“We are not anti-protest, but we are anti-crime. The policing of protests is often extremely challenging and our officers work to bring an end to disruption and criminal behaviour as quickly and as safely as possible.”