Surrey's Police and Crime Commissioner has backed new police powers to stop slow-moving protests – as she warned: “Most members of the public are utterly fed up.”

Lisa Townsend said it’s “absolutely right” that forces around the country will be able to intervene immediately when activists bring traffic to a standstill.

The new law, which was green-lit by the government after a spate of protests, specifically relates to slow walking demonstrations.

It will allow police to use a wider definition of what may count as a “serious disruption to the life of the community”.

In Surrey, Just Stop Oil has staged a series of protests on the M25, which peaked last year. During each, activists scaled gantries in various locations around the motorway in a bid to halt traffic, ran out into traffic, and in one incident, smashed pumps and glued themselves to lorries and forecourt signs at the Cobham and Clacket Lane services. 

Tougher penalties for those who interfere with public infrastructure – such as ‘locking on’ to gantries – were introduced two years ago, and earlier this month, 47 activists who caused chaos on the Surrey stretch of the M25 in September 2021 were convicted of various offences, including wilful obstruction of a highway and criminal damage.

Surrey has seen a spate of protests on the M25 by activists from Just Stop Oil
Surrey has seen a spate of protests on the M25 by activists from Just Stop Oil (OPCC)

Earlier this month, activists from a separate protest group, Animal Rising, attempted to disrupt the Epsom Derby Festival. In total, 31 arrests were made over the course of the day, with 19 people detained in an early-hours raid before the gates to the Derby opened.

Lisa said: “It’s absolutely right that police will have more discretion where groups are determined to cause serious disruption to communities. 

“Officers must have the power to use their discretion in the interests of maintaining public order and safety.

“Peaceful protest is crucial to a healthy democracy, and should be facilitated where it doesn’t infringe on the rights of others, but the co-ordinated criminality we have seen in recent years goes way beyond that.

“Let me be clear: the actions carried out by groups like Just Stop Oil and Animal Rising have frequently been reckless and dangerous, to the activists themselves, to the emergency services, and to members of the public.

“Most members of the public are utterly fed up of the disruption such activities have caused as they try to go about their lives.

“The incidents we have seen in Surrey have drawn officers away from their duties and put a huge strain on the Force. Officers around the country have a duty to the public, but also to those who are protesting and putting themselves as well as others at physical risk.

“I have seen first-hand how hard police have been working and I fully support their efforts to combat this criminal activity."