EXTINCTION Rebellion protesters have finally been cleared from Oxford Circus and Waterloo Bridge and Londoners can get about their city after eight days of disruption.
So what happens now to all those ragged Marxists with double-barrelled names and Instagram accounts boasting about their foreign holidays, who have taken such a delight in messing the rest of us around?
Rex Features Extinction Rebellion protesters have blocked London’s street for eight days causing severe travel disruption
According to Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick the operation has been a great success because her cops notched up 1,065 arrests — more than she can remember from any other single incident.
Sure enough, on sheer numbers the Met seems to have got itself into the record books. Even during the 1990 Poll Tax riots police only managed to arrest 339 people, and the famed Battle Of Orgreave, for all its notoriety on the Left, involved a paltry 82 arrests.
But what really matters is what happens to those who were arrested. Are they going to be charged with any offence or are they just going to be waved on their way with the feeble request: “Try not to block the roads again?”
Don’t hold your breath. There are already reports of protesters who were arrested last week — then promptly released to go straight back to the protests.
A better guide to the policing of these protests are the photos posted on social media of officers dancing with protesters.
The Met seems to have treated the whole incident as if it were a giant street party with properly-sanctioned road closures. The reality, of course, is that streets were blocked wilfully and remained blocked in spite of numerous appeals for the protesters to move on.
The result was that many thousands of people struggled to get to work and emergency vehicles were obstructed.
There is a good reason why blocking the public highway is a criminal offence — it can cost lives. The reason why so many Extinction Rebellion protesters were arrested is because that is what they wanted. They knew that so long as they put up no resistance they would have nothing to fear.
The advice on the Extinction Rebellion website reassures its members that in previous protests only approximately ten per cent of those arrested have faced any charge.
Even when people have been charged they have faced fines of £100 to £200 or less, and a conditional discharge.
Yesterday Elliott Cuciurean, 20, became the first activist successfully prosecuted over the London protests.
AFP or licensors Extinction Rebellion climate change activists perform a mass ‘die in’ under the blue whale in the foyer of the Natural History Museum
He was given a conditional discharge and ordered to pay just £85 in costs. NO FINE AT ALL, despite the protests costing the capital at least £12million.
No wonder so many of these protesters think they can act with impunity.
They have reckoned that by offering themselves up for arrest they will look like martyrs and incur public sympathy.
But of course, they are not being arrested for protesting — something which in a free country we all have a right to do. They are being arrested for deliberate obstruction of people trying to go about their business.
By arresting so many people then failing to follow it up with proper action, the Met risks falling headlong into Extinction Rebellion’s trap.
It has sent a powerful message to all would-be protesters that their activities will be treated as little more than a joke.
The treatment of Extinction Rebellion is laughable compared with the harsh, everyday policing of London’s roads.
Drive just a few yards in a bus lane or find yourself having to stop with your rear bumper overhanging a yellow box junction and you will be sent a £160 fine through the post.
There are hardly any excuses or mitigating factors allowed in those cases.
Yet block an entire street for a week, shutting down 55 bus routes and inconveniencing 500,000 passengers, and there seems to be no comeback whatsoever.
At the very least fines need to be realistic and reflect the financial loss to businesses.
Alamy Live News A massive police operation with mass arrests of environmental campaign group Extinction Rebellion in Waterloo Bridge
Extinction Rebellion, as an organisation, should be fined at least the full cost of the policing operation of the past week, if not the full economic cost borne by businesses which have been disrupted.
There is a perfectly proper, legal process for organising a protest in London or any other city — and one which is followed by dozens of other protest groups every year.
The capital wouldn’t be the same without its weekend marches for some cause or other.
Had Extinction Rebellion approached the police saying it wanted to organise a march demanding more action on the climate, officers would not have stood in its way — aside from requesting that it stuck to a particular route and concluded the march in a timely manner.
The right to carry out an organised protest is a freedom which many, many groups have exercised over the years, from trade unions complaining about “austerity” to the
Countryside Alliance opposing the ban on hunting.Society would collapse
But Extinction Rebellion has decided to ignore the rules completely. It is not hard to work out what would happen if every aggrieved group did that: Society would collapse into anarchy.
The argument of Extinction Rebellion that its cause is so important that it justifies breaking the law is ridiculous.
The Government is already carrying out much of what the group is demanding in terms of a switch to renewable energy — if not quite at the pace the protesters demand.
Indeed last weekend, just as these climate change zealots were putting on their show, Britain smashed its record for the longest period of generating electricity without coal for a full 90 hours. Even Friends of the Earth had to admit it was quite an achievement. No doubt through gritted teeth.
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As a democracy, Britain has long championed the right to political protest.
But it comes with responsibilities, which Extinction Rebellion has chosen to ignore.
The group should be made to pay the price.
Ross Clark is a Spectator columnist
Olympic gold medallist Etienne Stott arrested in Extinction Rebellion protest