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Climate Protests in Cambridge: Police Response

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:39 pm on 3rd March 2020.

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Photo of Anthony Browne Anthony Browne Conservative, South Cambridgeshire 3:39 pm, 3rd March 2020

My hon. Friend makes a good point. I shall come later to the issue of the advice from the College of Policing.

On 18 February, the protesters, armed with spades, dug up the lawn at Trinity College. They then proceeded to load soil into wheelbarrows and dump it in the foyer of Barclays bank—my branch of Barclays. Throughout this episode, Cambridgeshire police stood by and watched. They did not intervene to stop the criminal acts and no arrests were made at the time. The police said that they did not stop the criminal acts because they were concerned that to do so would be an infringement of the activists’ human rights. During the week, there were various acts of vandalism by activists, including at the iconic Schlumberger building and at a Shell petrol station. Subsequently, following public outrage and complaints from Trinity College, myself and Ministers, the police have arrested a total of nine activists.

The lack of police action against law-breaking protesters caused public fury across social media, the airwaves, the letters pages and my inbox. Virtually no one has argued that the police were right not to act. That public anger is very understandable. We rely on the police to uphold the rule of law, and not to let mob rule unfold. When those tasked with law enforcement appear to be unwilling or unable to intervene in flagrant criminal conduct, the public start to feel threatened. The public are also annoyed by the perceived double standard. Many said to me, “If I had blockaded the road or committed criminal damage, I’d be arrested on the spot. Why aren’t the protesters?” I want to put on record that I strongly support the ultimate objective of Extinction Rebellion in combating climate change, but I do not support its means.