Protester arrested during Extinction Rebellion protests in London, October 2019
PHOTO: Splento

New Netpol report says the Metropolitan Police were far more interested in preventing October’s Extinction Rebellion protests than in facilitating it.

On 20 November, Netpol launched “Restricting the Rebellion”, a report on the policing of Extinction Rebellion protests in London in October 2019, at an event at Doughty Street Chambers hosted by Green Party peer Jenny Jones.

The report found that the police systematically discriminated against disabled protesters by failing to meet their needs. It also questioned the police’s controversial use of Section 14 powers to limit the protests –ruled unlawful by the High Court on 6 November. It found the use of these powers was disproportionate and unreasonable and sought to criminalise what the police saw as an “illegal” movement, rather than judging protesters on their individual actions.

This was likely to have had a “chilling effect” on rights to freedom of expression and assembly, by making some individuals fearful of arrest simply for associating with the movement they supported.

Netpol’s report is based primarily on testimony gathered from protesters between 28 October and 3 November 2019. In total, Netpol assessed 521 reported incidents concerning potential abuses of police powers and 150 individual statements. A sample of 29 incidents illustrating the range of concerns we received is included in the report.

Media Coverage

Extinction Rebellion protest: Met accused of 521 abuses of power, The Guardian, 20 November 2019

Extinction Rebellion protests: Police ‘discriminated against disabled campaigners’ and made ‘unnecessarily aggressive arrests’, report finds, Evening Standard, 20 November 2019

An Officer Played with My Hair’ – Climate Protesters Allege Disturbing Police Behaviour, Vice, 21 November 2019

Six ways the police ‘abused their power’ during the Extinction Rebellion protests, DeSmog UK, 21 November 2019

Met Police discriminated against Extinction Rebellion protestors, says report, Green World, 20 November 2019

The report found:

  • There appeared a minimal intention of balancing the right to freedom of assembly with any disruption of the community.
  • The misuse of powers intended to limit protests gave the impression to officers on the ground that all protests were banned, providing the justification for the misuse of other powers to “prevent crime”.
  • The barrage of negative commentary from the most senior levels of the Metropolitan Police is likely to have influenced the alleged misconduct that is documented in this report.
  • Too often far more than a minimum level of force was used to make arrests of protesters, despite their compliance and commitment to non-violence.
  • The number of complaints from disabled protesters and condemnation of the Metropolitan Police’s own disability advisors demands an urgent review of how the police facilitate disabled people’s right to protest and how disabled people are treated on arrest.
  • Rather than avoiding surprises, the policing operation caused confusion and alarm amongst protesters and despite XR’s commitment to regular liaison with the police, it often found itself trying to engage in dialogue that was largely one-way, with officers who were not acting in good faith.

At the press launch, Baroness Jones said:

I am shocked in particular by the absolute disregard for the welfare and rights of disabled protesters, as well as those who are elderly and less physically robust. Based on their experiences outlined in this report, I fully support the call for an urgent review of how, in future, the police facilitate disabled people’s right to protest and how disabled protesters are treated on arrest

The report highlights concerns we have raised repeatedly over the last decade about a token commitment by the police to genuinely facilitating the right to protest.

The Extinction Rebellion protests in October 2019 were undoubtedly disruptive, but they were also a non-violent attempt to encourage the public to recognise the scale of the climate emergency and force the government to act. However, the police’s zero-tolerance approach escalated into unnecessarily aggressive arrests, a disregard for protesters’ welfare and eventually to the unlawful use of police powers.

Download a copy of the full report here [PDF]