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23 September 2021
Hertfordshire Police Federation chair Geoff Bardell has backed the handling of the M25 climate change protests after police were accused of being too “soft” on the activists
Geoff said Federation members were yet again facing “trial by media” as they tried to deal with a complex and dangerous situation which has seen Britain’s busiest motorway blocked by protesters five times in just over a week.
The demonstrators, from the Insulate Britain environmental campaign group, have caused major disruption across Hertfordshire with protests near Junction 18 of the M25 near Chorleywood and Junction 4 of the A1(M) between Welwyn Garden City and Hatfield. Last Monday they targeted Junction 20 and last Wednesday Junction 23.
Hertfordshire Police have made 78 arrests across the county in relation to the protests since they began.
But as the demonstrations and rush-hour disruption have continued, frustrations have been directed towards the police.
Geoff said: “Our members who are policing the M25 protests are putting their own lives at risk in an extremely hostile environment to protect both motorists and the activists from harm during these demonstrations.
“I have read that the police are in some way enabling the activists by trying to ensure they are not killed or seriously injured in what is an incredibly dangerous situation.
“But ridiculous claims like that show absolutely no understanding of policing, police powers or the extremely difficult situations our members find themselves in.
“Once again it is police officers under immense pressure in the most challenging of circumstances — in this case running across motorways to protect people hell bent on breaking the law — who are coming under fire for their actions.
“And you can guarantee there would be an outcry and calls for an inquiry into police conduct if one of these protests did end in tragedy.”
The Government has successfully applied to the High Court for an order which prohibits anyone from blocking the M25.
Anyone who breaks the injunction could be found to be in contempt of court, which carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison or an unlimited fine.
More than 200 people have been arrested since the protests began but Insulate Britain has issued a statement indicating its members will continue blocking the M25 despite the new injunction.
National Federation chair John Apter said: “Police only have so many powers at their disposal when handling protesters. Police officers have to work within the law.
“When protests evolve, police powers must evolve so we welcome the imposed injunction, granted by National Highways.
“I spoke to some of the officers out there doing their best in these situations and putting themselves at risk.
“The motorway is a hostile and unforgiving place, it’s beyond reckless that the protesters are putting themselves, my colleagues and the public at risk in this way.
“There’s not enough dedicated officers either on the roads, or to police protests, to deal with these situations in the way the public would expect us to.”