Pictures of protestor’s glued to tube trains, office buildings and Jeremy Corbyn’s fence brought back memories of when Shergroup was in the thick of a wave of environmental protest affecting private land.
Today we are seeing the Met Police deal with protests in the heart of the capital which make them the focus of intense media coverage and 360-degree scrutiny. Our CEO, Claire Sandbrook, writes, “I was watching SKY news last night and a seasoned protestor who is now a grandma was getting very upset about the state of the planet and what it meant for her children and grandchildren. As a mum myself I can relate to what she is saying and I can see she genuinely believes in her cause”.
The lawful right to protest is what makes Britain great. But as we have seen in London mayor, a light touch response to the determination of protestors can lead to chaos. When Shergroup has been instructed to deal with these types of situations, involving the enforcement of large scale Writ of Possession, the police have always been a supporting presence – and have remained on hand to ensure that there is no breach of the peace.
But in the situations now unfolding in London, the protestors are on public land, and the response is led entirely by the Met. The police are having to move quickly to prevent protestors from becoming embedded in difficult spots – particularly those folk who scale walls to achieve height. This type of activity raises the stakes when it comes to the form of response required. A carefully well thought out operational plan will be on someone’s desk as an operational command structure kicks in to oversee the operation. This will not be a new plan, it will be a rolling risk assessment for protests in the capital which has to be adapted, often in real-time to deal with the situations that present themselves to the police.
Claire Sandbrook remembers her own experience dealing with the 137 Days of Protest at St Paul’s Cathedral, saying “I had to make a decision outside St Paul’s Cathedral at 2.00 am in the morning to remove protestors from a heap of benches which had taken them over the 6 feet working at height regulation. I made the call to remove the protestors one by one. It wasn’t ideal but it was safe enough to get them off the benches and off the site. There wasn’t time to sit down and talk about the options, it just had to be done”.
As many of us know, eco-warriors are prepared to put themselves into extremely dangerous situations to bring attention to their cause. Every act of defiance, whether it be super glue, locking-on, or being over 6 feet off the ground, have potential risks that must be assessed and handled in accordance with health and safety guidelines. The police are under the same duties on this as every other agency to get this right. It can be nerve-racking – particularly for the Met who are under intense media scrutiny.
But these police officers have the experience of managing protestors from exercises such as St Paul’s Cathedral, Parliament Square, and numerous squats and fortified properties over the last 30 years. What we are seeing is the evolution of the protestor movement on the thorny issue of climate change. This is not going to go away. We see the police taking the same approach to the one we have taken over the years, and that is putting the safety of the public – even the protesting public – first and foremost.