'Pathetic': Lord Austin slams police response to XR protest

The police response to an Extinction Rebellion protest which delayed the distribution of several national newspapers has been branded "pathetic" by a West Midlands peer.

Police and fire services outside printing works at Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, where protesters blocked the road.
Police and fire services outside printing works at Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, where protesters blocked the road.

Lord Austin, the former MP for Dudley North, said it was a "disgrace" that Hertfordshire Police had expressed concerns about the rights of protesters, who blocked roads and stopped thousands of people from going to work during demonstrations last week.

He urged Home Secretary Priti Patel to order senior officers to ensure that in future, protesters who refuse to cooperate are immediately arrested.

Newspaper presses in Hertfordshire, Merseyside and Motherwell were targeted by Extinction Rebellion (XR) demonstrators on Friday night, causing delays to Rupert Murdoch-owned News Corp titles including the Sun, the Times, the Sun on Sunday and the Sunday Times.

Hertfordshire Police reportedly only sent six officers to the protest, which was publicised in advance having been planned last year.

Lord Austin, the former MP for Dudley North

The force said in a statement: "The rights to protest are well established in this country and we remain committed to facilitating peaceful protest and ensuring compliance with the law."

Lord Austin said millions of ordinary people would be "livid" with the force's "pathetic response" to the "completely unacceptable" behaviour of protesters.

"People have a right to protest, but a free society depends on the free press holding the powerful to account," he said.

Disagree

"And don't we have the right to read what we want and go to work? It is an outrageous attack on the freedom of the press, which is one of the fundamental pillars of our democracy and any free society.

"You can't have protesters or politicians deciding what people can or can't read. And you can't prevent newspapers being published and distributed because you disagree with their editorial line.

"The great irony is that newspapers do write about environmental decay and climate change, and by shutting them down, the protesters deny readers the opportunity to learn about it."

Describing the police response as "the worst aspect" of the protests, he added: "What a disgrace it is to see the force's assistant chief constable saying they were "working to facilitate the rights of the protesters and those affected by their presence". What on earth does that mean?

"People can protest all they like but but the police have a duty to keep roads open, allow people to go to work and newspapers to be published."

Hertfordshire Police said that following the protest 51 people were charged with obstruction of the highway and that two people were remanded in custody. A total of 49 people were released on conditional bail.

The force said: "People have a right to peaceful protest, however this was a carefully orchestrated blockade of a public road, designed to cause the maximum possible harm to local businesses.

"This was most certainly not lawful and not acceptable. In these circumstances, we will always seek to bring criminal charges against anyone who does this."

Protesters accused the newspapers of failing to accurately report on climate change.

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