By DAN SALES
Environmental protesters stopped a baby getting to hospital yesterday as they blocked a major junction in London – as Insulate Britain today emerged from their hibernation to strike with new disruption.
Tuesday saw Just Stop Oil activists hit exclusive Knightsbridge, causing a fire engine responding to an emergency to be blocked while an ambulance had to reverse and find another route.
Frustrated motorists confronted the campaigners, with one man telling them: ‘I’m trying to get a baby to hospital.’
It was the 11th consecutive day of demonstrations when it happened and today – the 12th day – saw another group of protesters re-enter the fray after months away.
Insulate Britain – who caused chaos for motorists last year – blocked the route to Westminster as they popped up to try and disrupt Prime Minister Liz Truss’s trip to Parliament.
At least 27 people have been arrested after eco-warriors blocked the roads around Parliament Square.
Met Police said all were arrested for public order offences – including one who had to be carried down on a stretcher after he climbed on top of a police van.
Police said they had removed all of the protestors by early this afternoon, many of whom had glued themselves to the road.
The last protester, Reverend Sue Parfitt, 80, was removed at 2.07pm and traffic is now flowing freely past Parliament after the activists blocked two lanes of the road at 11.39am.
The activists were given safety goggles while a chemical solution was applied by officers to detach the glue.
Police were able to keep one lane of traffic open throughout the demonstration – timed to coincide with today’s PMQs – allowing drivers to continue towards Lambeth Bridge.
Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley told the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee that officers have to wait until protests are deemed to meet a legal threshold of causing major disruption before they can be shut down.
His officers are in touch with Transport for London, local councils and the emergency services several times per day to check the level of disruption caused.
Sir Mark said: ‘Over the last 11 days, all of those partners have been of a view that it doesn’t cause serious disruption.’
He went on: ‘As soon as we have evidence of that serious disruption either being crossed as a line, or a good prospect of it being crossed, we’ll start being more assertive with our powers.’
Yesterday in Knightsbridge, a woman with the activists said: ‘We’ve got eight years of reserves of oil already, we don’t need more, we don’t need to take more.’ But the man said: ‘Yeah, you can’t do this – and it doesn’t happen overnight, does it?’
After police had arrived on the scene, a police liaison officer told the group: ‘Are you intending to stay here until you get removed by officers and arrested?’ A woman replied: ‘Yes, or you can get them to stop new oil licences.’
The police officer calmly continued: ‘I can’t do anything about that, but what I can ask you to do is ask you to move out the road and protest in a more safe and appropriate location. Is anyone willing to do that?’
One man filmed another police officer as he confronted her about the protesters sat in the road. She told him: ‘I don’t appreciate you shouting at me right now.’ He replied: ‘I’m not shouting, no, we’re not going to do that, my love, please, handle your business, handle your business, my love.’ The officer replied: ‘We are, we’re here.’
The junction is a major traffic interchange for those driving in or out of Central London to and from the west of the city, and is located close to the Harrods department store, Knightsbridge Underground station and Hyde Park.
The van driver’s identity is not known, but his vehicle carried the branding of Archers, a design and manufacturing facility for signage based in Isleworth, West London. MailOnline has contacted the company for comment.
Some 337 Just Stop Oil demonstrators are thought to have been arrested over the 11 days up to and including today, and the group claimed there had been more than 1,500 arrests since its campaign began on April 1.
After ambulances and fire engines struggled to get through, Number 10 said any disruption to the emergency services’ work is ‘unacceptable’. The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘These sorts of protests that disrupt peoples’ daily lives or, indeed, can stop our emergency services from potentially saving lives are unacceptable.
‘That’s why we’ve already toughened powers for the police, we’ve given them new powers to act and we are also taking further powers through the House at the moment to ensure they can go even further in preventing these individuals from disrupting peoples’ lives.’
Asked about the PM’s view on members of the people intervening to drag protesters off roads, he added: ‘We can understand the public’s frustration with their lives being disrupted in this way. But clearly it is for the police to respond in the first instance to these sorts of protests and this sort of disruption and that’s what we’d recommend.’
But Just Stop Oil – which normally has a policy of letting through the emergency services – also tweeted a video showing protesters moving out of the way of a fire engine, saying they had ‘paused’ the roadblock for the vehicle.
A London Fire Brigade spokesman said: ‘Crews were on their way to an automatic fire alarm sounding on Foley Street in Fitzrovia. Five fire engines were sent to the scene, with an appliance from Soho Fire Station the first to arrive. Firefighters investigated and found no fire.
‘An appliance from Kensington Fire Station was temporarily stopped by a road block and arrived within 14 minutes of being called. We work closely with our local authority and emergency service partners whenever there are road closure proposals to minimise impact on our service. However, given the nature of the event crews had no prior warning of the roadblock.’
Just Stop Oil put out a press release about the action this morning, quoting Holly Exley, 34, a freelance illustrator from Bristol, who said: ‘The reality is that there can be no new oil and gas if we want a safe future, but the UK government wants to extract and sell ‘every last drop’ from the North Sea.
‘Their plans will make climate breakdown, mass suffering and loss of life inevitable unless good people rise up and resist. Right now a very small group of people are making huge sacrifices, risking their wellbeing and their liberty to resist new oil and gas. It’s time for everyone to stand up and pick a side.’
Naomi Goddard, 58, a parish clerk from Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire, said: ‘I work in a conservative, law-abiding profession so the decision to take direct action with Just Stop Oil was not an easy one.
‘The reality is that we have less than three years to avoid climate catastrophe, but our government is failing to act and now Liz Truss is planning to grant over 100 new fossil fuel licences rather than encouraging renewable energy.
‘I just couldn’t keep my eyes tight shut against what was happening any longer. I know that I risk losing my freedom, my job and my friends by doing this but I also know deep in my heart that taking action at this time is absolutely the right thing to do.’
Graham Lowe, 68, an artist and art tutor from Lancaster, said: ‘I have no choice but to resist, this government is once again putting profit before people.
‘After a summer of global drought, record temperatures and millions made homeless by unprecedented floods in Pakistan, we have to stand up to the government and say no to new fossil fuels. There is no greater threat to the wellbeing of billions of people than complacency at this time. ‘
And Kathy Dolan, 48, a council worker from Trafford in Greater Manchester, said: ‘I can’t stand by while our government chooses destructive self-interest over a liveable future, and, for the global south, a liveable present. We’re out of time. I will resist, my conscience won’t let me do anything else.’
A Just Stop oil spokesman said today: ‘This is not a one day event, this is an act of resistance against a criminal government and their genocidal death project.
‘Our supporters will be returning – today, tomorrow and the next day – and the next day after that – and every day until our demand is met: no new oil and gas in the UK.
‘We will not be intimidated by changes to the law, we will not be stopped by private injunctions sought to silence peaceful people. Our supporters understand that these are irrelevant when set against mass starvation, slaughter, the loss of our rights, freedoms and communities.’
It comes after about 25 activists were arrested by police yesterday following a blockade of The Mall outside Buckingham Palace, with the disruption lasting just over two hours before they were eventually all removed.
A further eight protesters were arrested after carrying out sit-down protests outside Downing Street yesterday.
A Metropolitan Police spokesman said of the 33 people arrested: ‘All were arrested for wilful obstruction of the highway and have been taken to a number of custody suites where they remain at the moment.’
The protesters outside the royal residence, who had travelled from Scotland, said they felt the need to act after the UK Government gave its backing last month to an expansion of oil and gas operations in the North Sea.
The North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) is expected to undertake a new round of oil and gas licensing this month, but one of yesterday’s protesters described this ‘a death sentence for all of us here’.
However Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said the licensing could lead to more than 100 new licences being granted, which he claimed could ‘safeguard’ UK energy supplies and support more than 70,000 jobs in Scotland.
A Government spokesman said: ‘We remain fully committed to reaching net zero by 2050 and the UK is forging ahead of many other countries on net zero – with 40 per cent of our power now coming from cleaner and cheaper renewable sources.
‘But with Russia weaponising energy across Europe, we must make sure we do so in a way that protects energy security, by boosting homegrown energy supply and reducing our dependence on foreign imports.
‘This includes increasing domestic gas supply, which we’ve always been clear will have a role in our transition to net zero. But we will also continue to drive forward our commitments on nuclear and renewables like offshore wind.’