An assistant police chief has called the bluff of eco-warriors who tunnelled beneath an oil refinery then complained about the road being reopened to traffic by suggesting they are ‘welcome to come out at any time’.
After Just Stop Oil activists dug two tunnels underneath entrances to the Navigator oil terminal at Saint Clements Way and Stoneness Road in Essex, they warned the decision to partially reopen the roads was dangerous and could ‘risk their collapse’.
Essex Police assistant chief constable Glen Pavelin rejected the idea, saying it was up to the protestors to remove themselves from the tunnels they had climbed into to avoid endangering themselves and others.
He said: ‘The people who have dug themselves into the tunnels are welcome to come out at any time.
‘Yesterday, we arrested 28 people who had travelled to Thurrock from outside of Essex to cause disruption and made a further 11 arrests today regarding an incident of criminal damage in Grays.
‘This has involved a significant policing plan and resources to keep everyone safe, to tackle criminal offences taking place and to uphold the law.
‘We respect the right for peaceful protest but those intent on causing disruption and putting themselves and the safety of others at risk will not be tolerated.’
It comes after the group blocked service stations and vandalised pumps on the M25 this morning, infuriating motorists at the height of rush-hour on the UK’s busiest motorway.
Just Stop Oil also blocked Clacket Lane, Cobham and Thurrock services – 31 people were arrested. The group has disrupted petrol and diesel supplies from local depots since yesterday. The depots affected included Navigator, Grays and Kingsbury.
Four tunnels have been dug by the group, with three remaining occupied: two in Essex and one in Warwickshire.
Construction worker Sam, 29, from Suffolk, filmed a video taken inside a tunnel under a road leading to the fuel depot.
He is underneath the A1090, and told viewers police decided to reopen the road yesterday above the tunnel, ‘despite the fact that the tunnel goes all the way through the road and despite the fact that there are people inside the tunnel.
‘This is a direct breach of their duty of care, and is putting lives at risk.
‘We will remain in the tunnel because of the government’s continued failure to act on the climate emergency.
‘Police, shut this road immediately, for the safety of the people in the tunnel, and the safety of the people on the roadside.’
Sam, a 39-year-old construction worker occupying one of the tunnels in Essex, said he feels the police are ‘not taking his public safety concerns seriously’
Essex Police assistant chief constable Glen Pavelin said: ‘We respect the right for peaceful protest but those intent on causing disruption and putting themselves and the safety of others at risk will not be tolerated’
Protesters at Cobham services have glued themselves to the petrol forecourt to block vehicles from filling up with petrol and diesel
The glued protesters were later removed from the site by specialist police officers. At least nine arrests have been made so far at the three sites
Protesters smashed screens at the petrol pumps and sprayed them with graffiti in the same colour as the organisation’s branding
The vandalism means that even after protesters have been removed from the site, petrol will likely remain unavailable for some time
Police have been pictured at the scene attempting to move the protestors out of the road since around 6am this morning
Just Stop Oil activists blockade a filling station at Cobham services in Surrey, between junctions nine and ten of the M25
He added: ‘I don’t feel safe and I fear that the Police are dismissing my concerns for public safety. We have an ongoing situation where trucks weighing over 40 tonnes are driving directly over an occupied tunnel at a rate of over one truck per minute, this is directly putting lives at risk.
‘I’m not going to be pressured into leaving the tunnel. I am here for the long haul.
‘We face very dire consequences if we don’t stop new oil and gas drilling. We’ve already seen 40C heat in the UK for the first time in recorded history and that put immense pressure on the emergency services.
‘It’s clear that they are under-resourced and now they are cutting corners. This is on the government. They could end this disruption today and start to address the cost of living and the climate crisis by stopping new oil and gas.’
Just Stop Oil has carried out a series of actions in recent months to try and pressure the government to take more action to transition to a low carbon economy amid the climate crisis.
Protesters have previously blocked roads and other fuel stations across the country, and last month glued themselves to several priceless pieces of art in London’s museums including Van Gogh’s Peach Trees In Blossom and John Constable’s The Hay Wain.
Police have arrested 20 people at M25 service stations targeted by protestors who damaged and glued themselves to tanks. Clacket Lane and Cobham services in Surrey were both impacted.
Cobham services were able to re-open at around 2pm despite some pumps being broken, but Clacket Lane remains closed due to the damage caused.
A spokesman for Surrey Police said: ‘A total of eight protestors were arrested at Cobham and 12 were arrested at Clacket Lane for offences including conspiracy to commit criminal damage, aggravated trespass, and public nuisance. They all remain in custody.
‘A 29-year-old and 57-year-old man were arrested at Clacket Lane services. Following further inquiries, they were both de-arrested and released with no further action.
‘We know tactics of this protest group include running onto forecourts at petrol stations, using glue to stick themselves to petrol tanks, and causing significant damage to property. Previous activity at these sites has had a substantial impact on businesses and the public.’
Superintendent Graham Barnett said: ‘Whilst we will always seek to facilitate the public’s right to protest, the damage caused at the petrol stations earlier today is completely unacceptable and does not constitute a lawful protest.
‘Officers responded quickly to the first call and began removing protests safely as soon as they arrived. Responding to protests of this nature is not easy, the tactics these groups use cause damage and significant disruption which requires a lot of time and officers to resolve. I’d like to thank the public for bearing with us during the disruption.’
Some activists are already facing the UK court system for these and repeatedly blocking various sections of the M25. Several protesters, who the group say acted peacefully, have been remanded in custody while they await trial, which will likely take months. This may be delayed even further after criminal barristers voted to strike from September earlier this week.
Britain has been brought to a standstill by climate activists since before the pandemic, with mass Extinction Rebellion protests targeting London and other major cities since 2018, Insulate Britain activists storming motorways to stop traffic, and more recently Just Stop Oil protesters sabotaging fuel pumps and depots in their campaign against fossil fuels.
Dr Larch Maxey, 50, spoke from the entrance to one of the tunnels which he is occupying with other activists.
He said he and the other protesters have been visited by Highways Agency and council workers who are considering whether to re-open the road.
He said: ‘If they re-open the road it would endanger our lives, and we’re very concerned that the road that our friends are under, in another tunnel, has been opened.
‘We’re very concerned that they are putting our friends in danger, and the public, because there was a tunnel that was established when the road was closed, and now it’s been opened up.’
A statement released by Just Stop Oil says: ‘After consulting the Highways Agency yesterday, the police decided to partially reopen the road above a tunnel on St. Clement’s Way in Thurrock, Essex near the Navigator oil terminal, the largest in Britain.
‘This morning Stoneness Road has also been reopened after being closed yesterday. This means that large oil tankers and other HGVs are passing over occupied tunnels, risking their collapse, threatening the life of the people below and endangering anyone using these roads.
‘By contrast Warwickshire Police have closed the road above another Just Stop Oil tunnel on Piccadilly Way near the Kingsbury Oil Terminal.
‘Just Stop Oil revealed four tunnels yesterday, two each in Essex and Warwickshire. Three remain occupied and are now stretching under the roads.
‘The tunnel locations were chosen to totally cut off the tanker routes from Navigator and Kingsbury, the two largest oil terminals in the UK. The disruption to their operations means that there will likely be shortages of petrol and diesel in the South East over the bank holiday weekend.’
The group this morning blocked the entrance to fuel stations at the service stations, starting from 5am, spreading banners reading: Just Stop Oil.
In a statement, Surrey Police said activists damaged fuel pumps and glued themselves to the forecourts. Three petrol stations remain completely closed, both the eastbound and westbound sites at Clacket Lane in Surrey, and Thurrock in Essex.
Fuel is available from some pumps at Cobham services, which are now fully reopen, but some remain unusable due to damage.
Police say that although Cobham’s fuel station is now open after all protesters were removed, only some pumps are functioning due to damage.
At Clacket Lane, both the eastbound and westbound fuel stations are open but have no fuel ‘due to the damage caused to the petrol pumps’.
Surrey police, which managed the incidents at Cobham and Clacket Lane, added: ‘Officers are continuing to remove protestors from the westbound petrol station. In total, 13 people have been arrested at Clacket Lane services this morning.’
Seven people were also arrested at Cobham’s services.
Meanwhile Essex Police arrested 11 people at Thurrock’s petrol station, and added it remains closed while police collect evidence at the scene. A nearby road also remains closed, with a diversion in place.
Assistant Chief Constable Glen Pavelin said: ‘We’re working hard to keep Essex moving, keep people safe and minimise disruption to the public on Thurrock’s roads.
‘We understand that people have the right to peacefully protest, but we will not tolerate criminal activities that affect our communities and businesses and will take swift and robust action to tackle such incidents.
‘We will continue to work with our partners and businesses to bring this situation to an end.’
The group has faced criticism online for its actions, with one angry social media user referring to the activists as ‘morons’ in a tweet this morning.
Another added: ‘Well done, more working people shafted.’
Some raised concerns that actions such as these could push fuel prices back up, but there is no evidence to suggest that this is the case.
In a tweet this morning, Just Stop Oil wrote that disruptive action ‘will continue continue across the UK until Downing Street issues a meaningful statement to commit to stopping all NEW oil and gas projects.’
But not all social media users disagreed with the protesters. One wrote: ‘Well done Just Stop Oil. I hope the police don’t waste too much of your time. Keep up the good work.’
Another said: ‘Keep fighting for everyone’s future, even those who refuse to accept it’s under threat.’
Protesters began to stage a sit-in from 5am this morning and are refusing to move as police arrive at the scene
Activists from the group, which campaigns against the use of oil and fossil fuels, sprayed the petrol displays with black graffiti after smashing their covers
In a statement on the group’s website, Adam 53, from Gloucestershire explained why he had chosen to disrupt fuel supplies today.
He said: ‘In 20 years time, when my grandchildren point out that we knew about the destruction and suffering that the climate crisis would bring, I don’t want to have to tell them that I just sat at home and worried about it.
‘I want to be able to tell them I did what I could.’
The group added: ‘This climate crisis is unfolding as the worst cost of living crisis since the 1930s hits with millions being forced into destitution as oil and grain companies make record profits and famine stalks the world.
‘Enough is Enough, the Just Stop Oil Coalition is calling on all of those whose futures are being destroyed, who are facing poverty now, and who are outraged at yet another betrayal by the continuing dependence on oil and gas, to step up and take action.’
Sophie Sharples, a 22-year-old student from Brighton, said ending fossil fuel consumption is this generation’s ‘mission’.
She went on: ‘We have such a short window of time to act to avoid the complete destruction of all we know and love.
‘For all life, and for the love of humanity, I have to do everything I can, and with my privilege I am able to face arrest, so I will.’
Police have been pictured at the scene attempting to move the protestors out of the road from two of the sites in Surrey, Clacket Lane between junctions five and six, and Cobham between junctions nine and ten.
A Just Stop Oil protester appears to vandalise a petrol pump at one of the M25 protest sites this morning
Despite car drivers queuing at the petrol pumps at Clacket Lane and Cobham, no fuel remains available for them to use
No update on the third site, which is in Essex, has yet been issued.
In a statement on social media, the group said: ‘Governments around the world – including our own – are fully aware of the harmful effects of burning fossil fuels, yet are continuing to do so.
‘We are left with no other option at this time but to actively stop them. We will not stand by & watch preventable destruction.’
Surrey Police, who are responding to the Clacket Lane and Cobham sites, said: ‘We are currently in attendance at Clacket Lane & Cobham services on the M25 following reports of protestors damaging fuel pumps & gluing themselves to the forecourts.
‘Due to the damage, there is no petrol available at both stations, including both sides of Clacket Lane.
‘We appreciate the disruption this is causing and we are working as quickly as we can to remove the protesters from the service stations.
‘Nine people have been arrested on suspicion of criminal damage. We will continue to keep you updated via our channels.’
Fossil fuels are the leading cause of global warming and climate change, which is already creating deadly living conditions for millions of people across the world.
The effects are being felt in the UK too, with scientists saying that July’s heatwave, which saw the UK record 40C for the first time on record, was made 100 times more likely due to climate change.
There has also been an uptick in extreme weather events such as severe heat, dangerous storms and torrential rain and flooding.
At a global summit on climate change in Glasgow last year, attendees at Cop 26 heard that global leaders must act ‘now or never’.
Essex Police has been contacted for comment.