Climate change activists have begun drawing up plans for a second week of disruption as Scotland Yard continued to struggle to eject protesters from three illegal demonstrations despite summoning help from other constabularies.
Extinction Rebellion (XR) organisers announced they would “escalate” their London campaign by focusing on Parliament Square on Tuesday as MPs return to the Commons after the Easter break.
Although the Metropolitan Police last night revealed a total of 750 people had been arrested, protesters boasted how “nearly 50,000 people had signed up” to join their ranks since the protest began last Monday.
Demonstrators continued to maintain control of Waterloo Bridge, Parliament Square and Oxford Circus. They are only legally allowed to protest in Marble Arch.
There was a marked shift in the way police were treating activists at the illegal encampments as videos emerged of campaigners being pushed over or dragged along the ground after being arrested. Officers also began dismantling and removing parts of the encampment on Waterloo Bridge.
Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary, had earlier demanded the “full force of the law” be used to end the demonstrations and the subsequent disruption to the capital’s ‘transport networks.
The Met enlisted the help of some 200 extra officers from neighbouring forces to help police the protest and the mass arrests.
Cressida Dick, the Met’s Commissioner, said her officers faced unprecedented challenges in trying to clear the protesters.
Explaining how she was "very proud" of the work of thousands of officers over the past six days, she added that she was aware armchair critics would feel things could have been done differently.
“We have shown that we are strong, we are determined,” she said. "I have never - I've been a police officer for 36 years - I have never known an operation, a single operation, in which over 700 people have been arrested. It shows we are determined and we will carry on."
Jake Green, a 20-year-old actor who had spent the week at the protests, said: “We will swarm Parliament Square and make them admit there is a climate crisis and respond to us before it's too late.”
Another who spoke on condition of anonymity, suggested there could be a renewed attempt to target the Underground system.
Others activists who had been arrested claimed they were being taken as far away as Southampton and Brighton to be processed before being released. All of them said they were told they were under investigation, their offences did not merit being remanded in custody and so would be released. They then returned to London to continue their protest.
The Met’s request for “mutual aid” from constabularies in the South East meant they obtained one ‘protest removal team’, containing seven officers trained to remove those who had glued or locked themselves to objects, and eight ‘basic deployment units’, each made up of 25 public order trained officers.
In a statement, Scotland Yard admitted the protests were putting a “strain” on the force resulting in officers in the city’s boroughs being required to work 12-hour shifts, with rest days cancelled, and the Violent Crime Task Force having had all leave withdrawn. The force currently has 1,000 police patrolling the three sites.
A Scotland Yard spokesman said: “One thing that is unusual about this demonstration is the willingness of those participating to be arrested and also their lack of resistance to the arrests.”
Greta Thunberg, the teenage founder of the school strikes against climate change is expected to address the protesters on Easter Sunday.
The 16-year-old Swedish activist is due to meet senior British politicians next week having already met with Pope Francis and addressed the EU Parliament.