A senior Scotland Yard officer giving evidence at the first group trial of Extinction Rebellion activists behind mass protests in central London said the demonstrators had provoked “soul searching” and proved articulate and rational as they made their case.
The protests, in April this year, had found support even among the public facing severe disruption from the demonstrations, he said.
But the officer, Duncan McMillan, a superintendent, also told City of London magistrates court that others had found the protests, which shut down sections of central London for some days, “abhorrent”.
The demonstrations had caused NHS operations to be cancelled and meant ambulances were unable to move freely, the court was told by McMillan, who was a “bronze” commander in charge with operational policing during the protests.
About 1,200 officers were deployed on the first and second days and 3,500 on the third day. He added that, as well as stretching police resources the protests were a significant drain on London. “It was a stress on the Met and it started to get worse and worse,” he said.
Shops reported drops in sales – as much as 13% for flagship stores and 20% for smaller ones – along with allegations of verbal abuse and stickers and chalk being put on property, he said.
McMillan was giving evidence on the first day of the trial of Patrick Thelwell, 19, from York, Peter Scott, 65, from Devon, and Samuel Elmore, 26, from Hyde End.
All three were charged with offences including breach of section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986, obstructing a highway and obstructing police. Their defence, in the case continuing today and tomorrow, is expected to be based on one of necessity – that they had to act as they did to save lives as a result of climate chaos.
While other cases have involved Extinction Rebellions activists representing themselves, this trial is the first where a number have appeared together with legal representation in court. Their barrister is Russell Fraser, instructed by Bindmans solicitors.
Counsel for the prosecution said that the trial was not about the individuals’ ideology; it also was not about climate change and the crown would not be challenging a large amount of evidence which had been submitted to do with that.
More than 1,000 people were detained at the protests, in what organisers described as the biggest civil disobedience event in recent British history.