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Minister brands eco zealots 'Waitrose-card holders who can afford to pay £1k fines'
10 May 2022, 08:24 | Updated: 10 May 2022, 09:01
Eco-protesters who block roads are "often Waitrose card-holders" for whom a £1,000 fine is "of no consequence to them", a Home Office minister has said.
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Speaking on LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast about the Government crackdown on eco protesters due to be outlined in the Queen's Speech, Kit Malthouse said said the current deterrents were not sufficient because the demonstrators could afford to pay the fine.
"The offences that [the police] can prosecute people under don't carry deterrent sentences, so for example obstructing the highway, which was being used when people were blocking motorways, was a level three fine which was up to £1,000 with no threat of prison," he told Nick.
"These individuals, they're often Waitrose card-holders and the money that they have to spend on fines is neither here nor there, so the deterrent effect isn't there, so what we're trying to do is bring more of a deterrent which previously we have done through some of the injunctions that we've obtained... but we need it encoded in the criminal law."
Nick replied: "Just a point of clarification - these protesters are 'Waitrose card holders'?
"What does that mean, Minister?"
Mr Malthouse replied: "I meant very often a £1,000 fine is of no consequence to them."
Eco protesters from Insulate Britain blocked major roads up and down the UK in the second half of 2021, calling on the Government to insulate the UK's social housing stock.
An offshoot of the group, Just Stop Oil, then caused chaos for motorists by blocking oil refineries in April this year.
The Government is expected to announce plans for stricter punishments for such eco protesters, particularly ones who use "lock-on" tactics such as glueing themselves to the highway.
Explaining the plans to Nick, Mr Malthouse said the changes would "bring a more specificity" to the offences and would introduce prison sentences for protesters for the first time.
"One of the things we've experienced is there are a number of these protesters who are very persistent, notwithstanding the fines and the penalties that are handed out they keep coming back again and again," he said.
"So we're going to bring in a thing called a serious disruption prevention order which we can place on them as an individual, which will mean there are specific restrictions on what they can and can't do so as to protect the rest of us."
He said protest was "key to our national identity and our democracy" but added it had to be "balanced against the rights of others to go about their business".
Mr Malthouse then defended the police's handing of previous protests, saying: "We got to a situation where those protesters around the M25 were at times being removed within minutes of arriving and as we developed our approach towards those tactics, the police were getting ahead of them faster and faster.
"What we're trying to do today through the Queen's Speech, through this bill, is strengthen the powers that the police have to deal with these protests so that there are proper penalties that will deter them taking place in the first place.
"We want people to protest, to make noisy protests outside parliament, to talk about these issues, but not in a way that blocks motorways and puts them and the police officers in danger at fuel depots.
"That's what we're trying to achieve through this bill today."