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M25 protests: 38 arrested as cops warn activists are 'risking injury or death'

21 September 2021, 08:59 | Updated: 21 September 2021, 21:39

By Will Taylor

Almost 40 eco protesters have been arrested after they dramatically escalated their M25 demonstration on Tuesday morning.

Some 38 Insulate Britain activists are currently in custody, having been arrested on suspicion of a variety of offences including criminal damage, causing danger to road users, wilful obstruction of the highway and causing a public nuisance.

The group had decided to block the motorway's high-speed carriageway instead of slip roads, with police issuing a stark warning that the move could lead to "serious injury or death".

However, the activists still returned to disrupt motorists, who became enraged at campaigners who glued themselves to slip roads and caused serious tailbacks - though the lanes have since reopened.

Protesters defied police, having assembled on the hard shoulder before running in front of traffic, which had started to slow.

Police tried to haul them back off the carriageway as traffic dragged to a halt but the activists managed to sprawl out across the lanes and completely block both sides of the M25 near Leatherhead.

Read more: M25 eco-mob issues ultimatum to government over disruption

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Chief Inspector Mike Hodder condemned the "irrational decisions" being made by demonstrators.

"The risk of injury or death is very high when you're messing around on a motorway which in some sections is four lanes of live traffic," he said.

"Protesters standing on the hard shoulder and making an effort to get in to live traffic, anyone with a simple mind can understand that the result from that sort of action will be serious injury or death, and it could cause other motorists to react and have further accidents due to the consequences of those protesters making irrational decisions.

"We're very worried about serious injury and death."

Meanwhile, Chief Superintendent Jerry Westerman said: "This is the second week of protest activity on one of the busiest roads in the region. Protesters have put their own lives, as well as those of others, at risk by walking onto both carriageways of the M25 during rush hour traffic.

"Fortunately, we were on scene within three minutes of the first call coming in and took swift and robust action to ensure protesters were removed from both carriageways after they ignored our requests to move on peacefully."

Ch Supt Westerman reassured the public that they were working quickly to respond to the ongoing protests and thanked them for their patience in recent weeks.

Officers removed the activists and their banners in front of huge tailbacks. The protesters were seen going limp as they were hauled away.

Traffic began moving slowly after the demonstration was cleared away on the anti-clockwise route.

Downing Street backed police in taking "swift action" against environmental protesters on the M25, and said the forthcoming Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will give officers "the tools they need to address this problem".

A Number 10 spokesman said: "The police have our full support in taking swift action.

"That kind of disruption is dangerous and takes police away from communities where they are needed most."

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is controversial because of its measures aimed at curbing protests, but Downing St said the new legislation "helps police better manage demonstrations so that legitimate groups can make their voices heard without disrupting the lives and livelihoods of others".

Speaking to LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast, as Insulate Britain members ran onto the road, another campaigner with the group said she did not want to justify the demonstration.

Nick told Zoe Cohen that "someone is going to die".

But Ms Cohen responded that "thousands of people will die this winter from fuel poverty".

Read more: M25 eco protest delays left my mum paralysed from a stroke

Read more: Camilla Tominey blasts police for offering 'assistance' to Insulate Britain protesters

"We hate doing it, will you please ask the Government to write a reasonable statement and get us off the road? We don't want to do this, Nick.

"If the Government met our demands to insulate and retrofit social housing and the rest of the homes in Britain by 2030 it would save thousands of lives.

"We have to cause disruption, Nick."

Boris Johnson said they were harming their cause, but the group's Liam Norton said on Tuesday morning: "The idea that people would suddenly decide insulating our leaky homes is a bad idea as a result of our campaign is frankly laughable. We are simply asking the government to get on with the job.

"The people of Britain understand that climate change is a severe threat to everything they hold dear. They are looking to the government for leadership.

"We have a practical solution and have received encouragement for our aims from many construction industry professionals."

Read more: Anger after police filmed asking M25 eco protesters if they 'need anything'

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The group has apologised to Home Secretary Priti Patel over the protests, as public fury erupted when LBC was told of a man who got caught up in traffic as he tried to get help for his mother. She had suffered a stroke and he was en route to hospital.

But they refused to call off the campaign, demanding insulation in Britain's social homes and issuing an ultimatum to the Government – and they have now ramped up the stakes as activists took to the motorway proper on Tuesday morning.