Rachael Venables: How I witnessed Just Stop Oil's new tactic and the chaos it caused

29 November 2022, 07:15 | Updated: 29 November 2022, 07:26

Just Stop Oil protesters blocked roads across the capital
Just Stop Oil protesters blocked roads across the capital. Picture: LBC/Social media
Rachael Venables

By Rachael Venables

Through October and November, police arrested a staggering 755 Just Stop Oil protesters, and incredibly the group has, to date, cost the Met Police the equivalent of 12,000 working shifts.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

But yesterday, I witnessed a new tactic from Just Stop Oil, one that once again managed to frustrate the police as they raced to respond to the group’s spontaneous demonstrations.

Just Stop Oil had advertised their plans to return long in advance, so the Met were braced for wide-spread disruption.

80 officers were deployed and on standby across the city, and Scotland Yard even invited a small group of journalists (myself included) to join them in action.

After reports of activists gathering by the road in Shepherd’s Bush that had us racing out to West London and back, we arrived at the Strand just after 10am to finally see with our own eyes a small group of Just Stop Oil protesters, walking slowly down the road with banners.

They were clearly causing deliberate disruption, filling the carriageway and walking slowly enough to bring the London traffic behind them to a crawl.

There was only around a dozen protesters; easily the same number of officers; with five police cars and vans trailing slowly in their wake.

Passers by shouted insults, and drivers blared their horns.

But there was nothing the police could do about it.

Read more:

Do these new tactics mean police can't arrest Just Stop Oil?

They explained to me that they couldn’t arrest the activists, because slowly walking in the middle of a road is a ‘reasonable’ form of protest.

It’s what happens during most planned marches in any city in the world.

And of course, the legality in this area has been tested and strained in countless ways since Extinction Rebellion started blocking roundabouts four years ago.

While the Government seeks to strengthen policing powers at protests, a little known Supreme Court ruling last year (Ziegler) confirmed that obstructing the highway, while a crime, could also be a ‘lawful excuse’ as a form of protest.

The Judge confirmed that the deliberate blocking of a road could be a lawful exercise of someone’s Human Rights of Expression and Freedom of Assembly.

So police on the ground have to decide whether the disruption being caused, is ‘reasonable’, as Chief Inspector Billy Bowen-Long explained to me: "We have to show that disruption is ‘unreasonable.’ So for instance an arterial road being blocked, or an impact on critical services or deliveries.

"But where traffic is flowing and moving, albeit slowly, that’s deemed to be a ‘reasonable disruption.’"

While Rishi Sunak and Stella Braverman are reportedly demanding the police stop ‘tiptoeing’ around Just Stop Oil, this is the reality for the police on the ground.