Campaign aims to give police new powers to stop malicious protesters bringing chaos to our lives
The findings make for grim reading. Survey after survey indicates that the nation increasingly feels that crime has spiralled out of control and that police need more powers at their disposal. Meanwhile, tragic headlines telling of yet another young life snubbed out on the streets of our towns and cities have become an almost daily occurrence.
We are barely a month into the new year, yet there are no signs of a slowdown. Indeed, in London, the homicide rate (police no longer use the word “murder”) last year reached a 10-year high.
This is why this morning, on my LBC radio breakfast show, I am announcing the start of the Enough is Enough campaign to my 1.5 million weekly listeners. This follows months of meetings and briefings with some of the most senior police officers in the country, both former and currently serving, and conversations with specialist barristers.
On one aspect, all were agreed: the unremitting focus on Brexit, the years of parliamentary wrangles and the air it sucked from the political arena, has resulted in this desperately serious – and often fatal – issue being ignored for too long by too many.
Over the coming week, my show will call for a series of immediate measures. In some cases, we don’t have long to act. According to police intelligence, there are fewer than 100 days to go before the return of the Extinction Rebellion (XR) protests that brought chaos and disruption to much of the country, along with eye-watering policing costs. In London, Dame Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, told me the cost was more than £40 million, money that could be better spent trying to combat knife and gun crime, and save lives.
While many of XR’s aims are worthy, there is a far darker and more sinister motive, too. Today’s LBC report will feature video evidence in which Simon Bramwell, co-founder of XR, expresses his desire for “direct sabotage”, causing the collapse of much of current society and a descent into a form of anarchy.
During last year’s protests, the police were hampered by two major hurdles. Current law allows demonstrators to be arrested and taken to a police station for the formal proceedings of being charged. Upon release, however, they can promptly resume their activities, perhaps to be arrested again. In one instance last year, a protester leaving a police station asked for details of the bus to Waterloo Bridge, hoping to go and join that disturbance, too. This must stop with a simple law change prohibiting anyone arrested and charged in connection with unlawful protest from returning to any demo for a set time.
Secondly, clarity around the use of Section 14 of the Public Order Act is vital. Last October, the Metropolitan Police designated the pedestrianised area of Trafalgar Square to be the only acceptable space for protests to move demonstrations there and allow traffic and business to flow smoothly. Although this worked at the time, it has subsequently been ruled a misuse of powers as it breached parts of the Human Rights Act.
But what about the human rights of those who want to get to work in London or elsewhere? Or those who need to visit friends or family, or keep vital hospital appointments? The right to protest is a vital part of our democracy and not for a moment is this campaign seeking to stop that: rather it is to set parameters that allow protests to take place lawfully, and for citizens living or working in proximity to them to carry on with their lives.
The latest poll, conducted by Deltapoll, to be revealed on LBC today, will show widespread public support for these measures: 60 per cent support greater police powers, while 53 per cent back restrictions on the ability of protesters to return after their arrests.
This, however, is just the start. Over the coming weeks my show will call for better support for police officers on the front line and also, crucially, special constables, as well as broader and better requirements and terms for police recruitment and retention.