Police have warned protesters who targeted the M25 five times in just over a week that their tactics are likely to cause “serious injury or death”.
Surrey Police Chief Inspector Mike Hodder and Chief Superintendent Jerry Westerman told a press briefing that protesters charging into motorway traffic were putting drivers at a “very high” risk of death, but admitted police powers to charge the majority were “pretty limited”.
The pair spoke at a press briefing after the force arrested 38 activists from the group Insulate Britain who targeted junctions 9 and 10 of Britain’s busiest motorway at 7.57am on Tuesday.
Chief Superintendent Westerman said the demonstrators were cleared by 8.17am and were being held at various custody centres, but none had been charged by 4pm.
Footage taken at the scene by LBC showed the protesters walking on to the motorway and sitting down on the ground in front of moving traffic.
Some then held up banners reading “Insulate Britain” and poured blue paint on to the road, before they were dragged away by officers.
Chief Inspector Hodder condemned the demonstrators’ “irrational decisions” to charge into moving traffic.
He said: “The risk of injury or death is very high when you’re messing around on a motorway which in some sections is four lanes of live traffic.
“Protesters standing on the hard shoulder and making an effort to get in to live traffic, anyone with a simple mind can understand that the result from that sort of action will be serious injury or death, and it could cause other motorists to react and have further accidents due to the consequences of those protesters making irrational decisions.
“We’re very worried about serious injury and death.”
Chief Superintendent Westerman added: “My plea to those (protesters) is that whatever you feel are your legitimate aims in relation to the protest, the harm that you are causing through your actions is significant, not just disruption and inconvenience, but very real risk of harm to people…
“The type of protest being carried out now is unreasonable, it’s unsafe and if it happens it will be dealt with robustly and it will be prosecuted with the full weight of the law.”
He admitted that police powers to charge and remand protesters for blocking traffic were “pretty limited”.
“The primary offence here is obstruction of the highway, which is not in itself an imprisonable offence, so our opportunity to charge and remand people in custody is pretty limited for that specific offence,” he said.
He added that no protesters have yet been charged with endangering lives.
He appealed for motorists with video and dashcam footage of the protest to share it with the force urgently.
The campaigning group confirmed it led the demonstration, adding that new people have joined its campaign to improve home insulation in addition to the others who have been involved in similar demonstrations in Hertfordshire, Kent, Essex and Surrey over the past two weeks.
It added that the recent rise in gas and electricity costs has “increased the urgency” for change and it would end its campaign as soon as it hears a “meaningful commitment” to its demands.
Spokesman Liam Norton said: “The idea that people would suddenly decide insulating our leaky homes is a bad idea as a result of our campaign is frankly laughable. We are simply asking the Government to get on with the job.
“The people of Britain understand that climate change is a severe threat to everything they hold dear. They are looking to the Government for leadership. We have a practical solution and have received encouragement for our aims from many construction industry professionals.”
Climate change activist Dr Diana Warner, a retired GP from Gloucestershire, said: “Insulating homes is such a necessary action right now, for health, economy and climate. All our homes.
“Only the Government can get that done. Boris just needs to get on with it. This is a practical way to start to level up Britain. No words, we need action and results.”