POLICE undoubtedly have a difficult job but their purpose should be clear: to protect us from crime and disorder. That means ensuring we can go about our business unimpeded and our persons and property, including public property, are kept safe. Cambridge police don’t seem to understand this.
They have allowed the hooligans of Extinction Rebellion, or ‘XR’ as they style themselves, to cause traffic chaos in the city with all the misery and frustration that brings. They have also stood back and let these self-righteous bullies destroy a beautiful piece of the city’s fabric, the lawns of Trinity College.
The police were perfectly aware that XR were planning their attack (there is no other word). It was given substantial advance publicity by XR themselves, with a stated aim of closing the city down. Last week in The Conservative Woman I called, as I’m sure many others did, for the police to be ready to enforce the law from the moment the first protesters turned up.
But they didn’t.
If anything, they facilitated the protests. As Allison Pearson describes in the Telegraph, ‘An extraordinary tweet from Cambridge Police said: “We are using emergency police powers to close two city centre roads. An organisation known as Extinction Rebellion Cambridge have begun a week long protest . . .” The statement went on to say that the police, “working in partnership with Cambridge City Council and Cambridge County Council to mitigate disruption”, had closed the Fen Causeway intersection.’
Well done. You’ve just carried out half the action that XR had planned. Tough on anyone needing to get to work or a hospital appointment, but the streets of Cambridge are now safe for XR’s anti-social posturing in their police-created safe space.
The police have hidden behind platitudes about people exercising their rights to protest. That’s my favourite non sequitur so far this year. No one is suggesting stopping lawful protest. If XR want to stand on a pavement (allowing space for pedestrians to pass), let them. They can bang their drums and prance about with their puerile theatricality. But trying to stop a city is something else. Section 137 of the Highways Act 1980 tells the police what they need to do:
(1)If a person, without lawful authority or excuse, in any way wilfully obstructs the free passage along a highway he is guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding £50.
(2)A constable may arrest without warrant any person whom he sees committing an offence against this section.
The police should enforce it and make arrests as needed. Not to do so is neglecting their duty. And that’s quite apart from their failure to arrest every last one of the vandals who destroyed Trinity’s lawns. Or doesn’t criminal damage matter any more?
I’ve written before in TCW about my embarrassing political past. In my late teens I was a member of the demented and nasty anarchist group Class War.
After 35 years of repentance for my stupidity and bad behaviour, I still remember how quickly and aggressively (though not violently) the police responded at demonstrations if we crossed the line from protest into illegality. We didn’t have the police helping us block streets or just spectating when things got smashed up.
They were more robust back then. Being marched into a police van with your arm up your back, spending your day in a cell, then later appearing in front of a magistrate really wasn’t very nice. I speak from experience.
XR boasts it has a cadre of protesters who are willing to be arrested for the cause. Let’s test that. I suspect that many of them are softer than claimed. Certainly some wouldn’t care and take arrests as a mark of distinction. But for your average dress-up revolutionary, it’s more of a worry. A criminal record still has a downside and no one enjoys paying a fine. I wonder how quickly their bravado might dissolve if the threat of arrest was more immediate? And even the more hardened get demoralised by multiple arrests with penalties increasing for repeat offences.
The police have no excuse. The laws are already there and there is public support to see something done. Five thousand Cambridge residents have signed a petition to their Chief Constable demanding action. Not that that should really be a consideration. The police should be doing their duties whether they are asked to or not.
And they certainly can’t claim that resourcing or manpower levels are the issue. There is no better way of making sure that police are available to deal with their other tasks than stopping illegal behaviour at the point it starts.
If police commanders can’t be relied on to enforce the law, they should be replaced by new ones who can. And the government should show leadership in making sure that happens. Priti Patel – we are looking at you.