A senior Metropolitan Police officer has said the force is “determined to bring to justice” Just Stop Oil protesters who cause disruption on the M25 after 16 arrests were made on Tuesday.
Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist said operations launched in response to the activists “come at a cost”, and police officers could otherwise be dealing with violent crime and safeguarding.
Just Stop Oil said “approximately 15” of its supporters climbed on to overhead gantries in “multiple locations” on the UK’s busiest motorway from 7am on Tuesday, causing police to halt traffic.
The Metropolitan Police said 16 protesters were arrested in a joint operation with neighbouring forces – including Essex Police, Surrey Police and Kent Police.
Traffic is being held northbound at the #A282 #DartfordCrossing due to an @EssexPoliceUK led incident. There are delays of 60 minutes and 5 miles of congestion on the approach. Road users may wish to reroute or delay their journey. pic.twitter.com/eLsxVTtopT
— National Highways: South-East (@HighwaysSEAST) November 8, 2022
Meanwhile, eight people charged with conspiracy to cause a public nuisance following protest action on Monday are due to appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.
On Tuesday, Essex Police said a protester climbed on to the gantry at junction 31, causing the Dartford Tunnel to be closed.
In a statement following Tuesday’s arrests, Mr Twist said: “The Met, in a joint operation with neighbouring police forces, has again responded swiftly and robustly to today’s attempts by Just Stop Oil activists to disrupt the M25.
“We are all absolutely committed to providing a quick and effective response to those activists who continue to significantly disrupt people’s daily lives.
“Operations like these come at a cost. Since the start of October we have used more than 11,000 officer shifts to police Just Stop Oil protests. These are officers who would otherwise be dealing with issues that matter to local communities such as knife crime, safeguarding and responding to burglaries.
“We are determined to bring to justice all those who conspire to cause significant and unreasonable disruption to London and the motorway network and we’ll work closely with the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts to make sure this happens.”
National Highways said earlier in the day there were delays of an hour, with congestion for five miles.
Just Stop Oil also targeted at least six other locations on the M25.
We are currently on scene at the north-bound track of the M25 at the Dartford River Crossing where a protester has climbed on to the gantry at junction 31. Dartford tunnel and two lanes are closed. We are working as quickly as we can to keep you moving. pic.twitter.com/SAD8gCAtkS
— Essex Police (@EssexPoliceUK) November 8, 2022
The Met said earlier: “We know how disruptive and distressing these road closures caused by protesters are to the traveling public.
“Please rest assured that when they occur, police will arrive quickly and deal quickly with the situation and get roads open again as soon as possible.”
The force said it deployed “specialist removal teams” to deal with the protesters.
It urged members of the public stuck in traffic to “stay in their cars and refrain from using the hard shoulder”.
Protests took place at 13 locations on the M25 on Monday.
Police believe some of those involved in the demonstrations could have breached a High Court injunction obtained by National Highways.
Just Stop Oil said in a statement: “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.”
The Met is conducting an operation to foil the protests in conjunction with the National Police Coordination Centre.
Just Stop Oil staged 32 days of disruption from the end of September and throughout October, which the Met said resulted in 677 arrests with 111 people charged, and officers working a total of 9,438 additional shifts.
According to the group, Just Stop Oil supporters have been arrested nearly 2,000 times since its campaign began on April 1, and five are currently in prison.
It warned the Government’s refusal to halt North Sea oil and gas extraction will contribute to global warming, which “will result in the collapse of ordered civil society, the loss of our rights and freedoms and the death of countless millions of people”.
🛣 “You’re going to bring me down.”
The disruption will end when the Government ends new oil and gas.
— Just Stop Oil (@JustStop_Oil) November 7, 2022
Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride said Just Stop Oil protesters do have a point “in (a) sense”.
He told Sky News: “I do think there’s a major issue when individuals can go on to motorways or even just outside Parliament, in fact, periodically, at will, just sit down in the middle of the road and disrupt the traffic – sometimes, indeed, emergency services get caught up in that as well.”
But when it was put to him that the environmental activists have a point, he said: “Well, they do in (a) sense. Couple of points… one is, absolutely, we are all determined, and this Government above all else is absolutely determined, to bear down on the use of fossil fuels.
“Second point I would make is that we do have to strike the right balance between the right of individuals to express their opinion and protest, which is absolutely fundamental to a civilised democracy – which is what we have in our country – and, at the other time, making sure that we don’t inconvenience the public or indeed endanger the public in some circumstances.”