Residents in Cambridge have accused the police of allowing “mob rule” after Extinction Rebellion activists blocked roads and vandalised the lawn of one of the university’s colleges.
The anti-climate change group was given police permission to stop traffic, including ambulances and buses, in a week-long demonstration in the city that began yesterday.
More than a dozen activists, including undergraduates, dug up a lawn at Trinity College citing its investment in fossil fuels and plans to turn a farm in Suffolk into a business park. One person chained themself to an apple tree grafted from the one said to have inspired Sir Isaac Newton.
Cambridgeshire police, who did not make any arrests, explained that the force viewed moving the demonstrators off the road as a violationof their human rights.
However, residents criticised the group as well as the police. An online petition, which attracted more than 4,200 signatures, urged officers to remove the roadblocks on Fen Causeway and Trumpington Road, which were granted using emergency powers.
Rod Bishop, 65, an accountant, said the protests were bizarre and ridiculous and called for the activists to be arrested. “Personally I think the police should keep roads open and discourage vandalism by making arrests whether the college wants them to or not,” he said. “The police need to act to let people go about their daily lives.”
The demonstration in Cambridge is Extinction Rebellion’s biggest protest outside London. The Metropolitan Police were criticised last year for initially failing to stop disruption to the capital during protests, which ended up costing the taxpayer £37 million in police staffing and overtime.
A spokesman from Extinction Rebellion said that only ambulances flashing blue lights would be allowed through the Cambridge blockade, otherwise they would have to re-route.
Trinity, Cambridge’s richest college, was established by Henry VIII in 1546. It owns the 300-acre Innocence Farm between Trimley St Martin and Kirton, which it hopes to develop for warehousing, haulage yards and lorry parking. […]
Activists took the chunks of turf in wheelbarrows and dumped them inside a nearby branch of Barclays bank. The group would not discuss what further protests were planned in the city.
Superintendent James Sutherland, who is leading the police response to the protest, said in a YouTube video last night: “It’s important to remember that when policing a protest, the law requires us to protect people’s right to peaceful assembly and protest.
“The Human Rights Act . . . requires us to understand and interpret all other law in relation to people’s human rights. We have to consider not just the highway being blocked but what is the impact . . . and simply a road being blocked does not make the protest itself unlawful.” A spokeswoman said on Twitter: “A crime has been recorded for criminal damage.”