Eco-morons today blocked two motorways in London – their ninth day of blockades in the past two-and-a-half weeks – as the authorities lost control of them yet again.
Insulate Britain shut down the M4 near Heathrow Airport and the M1 close to Brent Cross in more misery for drivers who have also spent the past week queuing for fuel – and further humiliation for the police and Home Office.
There were furious clashes between drivers and protesters on the rain-soaked M4 at about 8.30am near junction three for Cranford and Hayes in West London, with motorists tearing banners from their hands and hurling abuse as their route to work or school was blocked. Others stuck in long queues also beeped their horns in frustration.
The climate change campaigners have bragged that at least eight people sat on the roads this morning were arrested and released without charge after they twice blocked the M25 at Swanley in Kent on Wednesday.
A spokesman for Insulate Britain, which had until today focused its protests on the M25 since September 13, said: ‘Approximately 30 people from Insulate Britain have blocked roundabouts on the motorway network today.
‘The group has blocked the M4 at Junction 3 and the M1 at Junction 1. They are demanding that Boris gets on with the job of insulating Britain’s homes starting with the homes of the poorest people in the country’.
Sluggish moves to combat Insulate Britain have left Government departments at loggerheads, it emerged today, as the injunction that ministers had promised would put them behind bars failed completely.
This is the moment Eco-morons today blocked the M4 close to the M25 and Heathrow – their ninth day of motorway blockades in the past two-and-a-half weeks
Across London there was a simultaneous protest on the M1 at Brent Cross, one of the busiest junctions in the capital
There were furious clashes between drivers and protesters on the rain-soaked M4 at around 8.30am, with motorists tearing banners from their hands and hurling abuse as their route to work or school was blocked
These two enviro-zealots padlocked their necks together to make it harder for police to arrest them
The group say at least eight people sat on the roads this morning (M4 pictured) were arrested and released without charge after they twice blocked the M25 at Swanley in Kent on Wednesday
Police arrived on the scene on the M4 and spoke to protesters and telling them they would be moved and arrested
Police officers detain Insulate Britain activists blocking a motorway junction near Heathrow Airport
Some glued their hands to the roads again to make it harder for police to clear them as queues built up this morning
Ministers have now given orders to seek sweeping new legal moves against the eco-activists, in the form of a tougher and far more wide-ranging injunction.
Miss Patel has also instructed police chiefs to look at charging protesters with road traffic offences such as ‘causing danger to road users’ that could see them imprisoned for up to seven years.
Insulate Britain: Timeline of M25 chaos that spilled on to the M1 and Dover
September 13 – 78 Insulate Britain protesters are arrested after blocking junctions 3, 6, 14, 20 and 31 of the M25
September 15 – More than 50 protesters are arrested after targeting junctions 1, 8, 9 and 23 of the M25.
September 17 – 48 protesters are arrested after targeting junctions 3, 9 and 28 of the M25, as well as the M3
September 20 – 29 protesters are arrested after blocking the M25 at junctions 4 and 18, as well as the A1
September 21 – Protesters risk death by running into moving traffic to block the main carriageway near Junction 10. Some 38 arrests are made. National Highways obtains an injunction against further protests on the M25
September 22 – Protesters burn copies of the injunction outside the Home Office, blocking the road outside the ministry. No arrests are made
September 24 – 39 protesters are arrested after blocking roads at three locations in Dover. They are all released under investigation. National Highways obtains a second injunction covering Dover
September 27 – 53 protesters are arrested for blocking a slip road at Junction 14 of the M25. They are all released under investigation.
September 28 – National Highways says it is taking ‘legal advice’ over how to enforce its injunction
September 29 – 27 protesters are arrested for blocking a roundabout at Junction 3 of the M25 on two separate occasions
September 30 – Protesters return to junction 30 at Thurrock in Essex, and nine are arrested
October 1: The group block the M4 at Junction 3 and the M1 at Junction 1. Arrest figures to be confirmed.
Such a lengthy jail term would place convicted protesters in jeopardy of losing their livelihoods and their homes.
In a significant development last night, sources confirmed officials will seek a so-called ‘contra mundum injunction’, which will apply to anyone who breaches its terms by blocking roads, rather than against specific, named Insulate Britain activists.
In theory, this should make it easier for National Highways to ask police and the courts to enforce action against protesters for contempt of court.
An interim injunction, granted by the High Court against individual protesters last week, has failed to stop the road blocks.
Yesterday the activists barred drivers from part of the M25 for an eighth day, causing long queues of traffic.
Insulate Britain protesters glued their hands to the ground at junction 30 at Thurrock in Essex at around 8am.
Essex Police said all lanes were open again shortly after 10am.
Nine people were arrested on suspicion of obstructing a highway and were being held in custody last night.
The group admitted that its actions are in breach of the existing injunction, which means they could be found to be in contempt of court, which carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison or an unlimited fine.
But last night no firm action appeared to have been taken to enforce the first injunction, which was obtained by National Highways at the High Court last Tuesday.
Amid reports of conflict between the Home Office and the DfT last night, sources said Miss Patel was aghast at the length of time being taken to deal with the crisis by the DfT’s highways agency.
‘The real problem is with National Highways,’ one source said. ‘Priti is concerned that it has been very slow in responding. It has just not been quick enough.’
The proposal for a contra mundum injunction – Latin for ‘against the world’ – is believed to have come from former Solicitor General Michael Ellis QC, who was appointed Paymaster General in Boris Johnson’s reshuffle last month.
Proposals for the measure are being drawn up and will be put to a High Court judge within days, the Mail understands.
Yesterday deputy Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Stephen House described the protests as ‘lunacy’ and said he feared officers’ lives are at risk dealing with the demonstrations.
‘The most recent one I saw had officers running between articulated lorries that were moving on the main carriageway of the M25,’ he told the London Assembly.
Officers dragged the protesters to the side of the road. Many of them have been arrested at least half a dozen times
A protester is searched after being put in handcuffs by the Met
One driver pleads with the protesters to move – but the two women explain they were staying put
Sluggish moves to combat Insulate Britain have left Government departments at loggerheads, the Daily Mail can reveal
Home Secretary Priti Patel was left ‘amazed’ by delays at Grant Shapps’ Department for Transport, which is running the Government’s legal response to protesters’ actions, it is understood
Miss Patel has also instructed police chiefs to look at charging protesters with road traffic offences such as ‘causing danger to road users’ that could see them imprisoned for up to seven years
Police forces have improved in their response to the protests, sometimes managing to reopen carriageways within an hour.
Why has the High Court injunction not worked and what happens next?
Q: The Government has already obtained an injunction against Insulate Britain, so why hasn’t it worked?
A: Officials have been slow to establish whether named protesters have breached the injunction, and there were concerns it had not been properly served on individuals. Now ministers are set to try a different approach.
Q: What is the Government planning?
A: A new ‘contra mundum injunction’ will have far more sweeping terms than an interim injunction granted last week, and will make it easier to enforce.. This type of injunction is rarely granted by the courts.
Q: How will it work?
A: The new injunction will be addressed to anyone who breaks its terms, rather than against specific, named Insulate Britain activists. In theory, this should allow the highways agency to ask police and the courts to enforce action against protesters for contempt of court.
Q: What else is the Government planning?
A: Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, is understood to want police to consider charging protesters with ‘causing danger to road users’ under Section 22A of the 1988 Road Safety Act. The offence carries up to seven years’ imprisonment – a far tougher sentence than offences currently being levelled against the activists. She is also said to be keen to see quicker decision-making by the Crown Prosecution Service, which is overseen by Cabinet colleague Dominic Raab, the Justice Secretary.
Q: What happens next?
A: Government lawyers are drawing up terms of the new injunction which is expected to be presented to senior judges within days. If approved, it would come into force immediately.
National Highways – previously Highways England – and its bosses at the DfT, however, have failed to respond convincingly to a crisis about to enter its fourth week.
When first asked about how they would enforce the injunction after it was flouted on Monday, National Highways wrongly said that this was an ‘enforcement matter’ for the police.
However, a day later the agency said it was ‘taking legal advice’ after realising it was up to them to haul the protesters to the High Court for potential imprisonment or a fine.
On Wednesday the injunction was breached twice more, when protesters blocked junction 3 of the M25 on two occasions.
National Highways said it was ‘working with the police to establish names of the protesters and if they have been previously arrested’, despite their identities being widely reported.
Simultaneously, the DfT claimed it could not ‘comment on the specifics around ongoing legal matters’, despite contempt of court proceedings being public.
By Wednesday evening, however, the DfT said it was ‘already knocking on doors and serving papers to offenders who will be sent to court and could face fines or prison’.
But it failed to reveal how many of the activists had actually been served with legal papers, despite repeated requests to clarify the situation.
Yesterday a spokesman for the judiciary said the High Court had not yet received any notification that the Government had begun proceedings against any of the protesters involved.
A further High Court hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.
The protest group is calling on the Government to insulate all UK homes by 2030 to cut carbon emissions.
An Insulate Britain spokesman said: ‘We are raising the tempo this week as, despite the urgency of the situation, there has been no meaningful response from the Government to our demands.
‘We are deeply concerned that with rising fuel bills and not enough action on insulation, there will be further unnecessary suffering and deaths among the most vulnerable this winter.
‘It’s not just cold and hungry Britain, it’s billions of pounds wasted on fuel costs for everyone.
‘Failing to help hardworking families, failing to stop poverty fuel deaths, failing to protect the country we love from the biggest threat it has ever faced. We need our Government to keep us safe. Boris, get on with the job.’
Essex Police thanked drivers for their patience and understanding during the latest protests.