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“Essex is not soft on illegal protest” says public order lead

Chief Constable BJ Harrington has spoken out following criticism that his force has been “too soft” on protesters.

Last week, Essex officers were called to an incident where environmental protesters had blocked an oil tanker and obstructed the road.

One person had climbed on top of the vehicle and others are reported to have deflated its tyres – eight were subsequently arrested.

It is one of many similar incidents that Essex has had to manage in recent weeks – including protestors digging a tunnel underneath a carriageway which is a key delivery route for a nearby oil terminal. Protestors climbed into the tunnel and some remained there for a number of days.

Meanwhile, during a previous Just Stop Oil protest individuals damaged fuel pumps, and glued themselves to forecourts at service stations across the M25 – including services in Thurrock.

In recent days 60 protestors have been arrested by the force for disruptive and illegal tactics – nine of which have so far been charged with criminal offences and four subsequently remanded into custody by magistrates.

16 protestors have been served with injunctions and a further 10 are likely looking at action relating to existing injunctions.

Across the Easter holidays, Essex arrested 461 protestors.  

Now, Essex Chief BJ Harrington, who is the NPCC lead for Public Order and Public Safety, has responded to criticism in the media and online.

“One of the emerging criticisms seems to suggest police officers are “being too soft” and not taking decisive action to resolve matters in relation to protest,” he said.

"I understand and share the frustrations felt by communities and local businesses disrupted by protest activity. The resolution to these matters, especially where protesters have tunnelled beneath the road surface, is not straightforward and is not a case of officers simply ‘climbing in and dragging them out’.

"Removing protesters safely from potentially unstable tunnels, without endangering the lives of those we would be sending in, is a careful balance that must be found. In policing we face difficult decisions every day, assessing the risk to life and property and taking the right, proportionate action.”

He clarified that the cause of climate change is a “real concern” – underlining some of the work the force itself is doing in this area including electrification of its fleet and exploring the use of solar panels.

He added: "Even so, concerns about the climate - however real - cannot justify actions that seriously disrupt and endanger the lives of others. Whilst my officers are dealing with these protesters, they are diverted from other duties such as the prevention and investigation of burglary, robbery, sexual and violent crime.”

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