The Metropolitan Police’s decision to seize protest equipment and arrest activists from climate campaign group Extinction Rebellion has been called “plain wrong” by MPs in the run up to the group’s fortnight of action in Westminster and across the world.
The campaign organisation, which plans to blockade roads around the parliament for the next 14 days, was targeted by officers on Saturday after it was rumoured to be storing items for use in protests.
Footage from the scene showed at least a dozen officers breaking down the doors of the group’s building in Kennington, south London.
A spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police said eight arrest were made following the operation in Cleaver Street – including seven on suspicion of conspiracy to cause public nuisance and an eighth on suspicion of obstructing police. All have been released pending investigation.
And on Sunday a ninth person was apprehended for conspiracy to cause public nuisance. She remains in custody.
Goods including tents, toilets and disabled-access equipment were taken in the raid, according to a group spokesperson. In a statement they added that officers had seized “the very things that would make the international rebellion in London safe, clean and accessible to all”.
They added: “Our lawyers advise that any attempt to remove essential well-being facilities, including first aid kits and essential sanitation, would be an abuse of police powers and an unlawful attempt to frustrate the exercise of the fundamental rights of freedom of assembly and freedom of expression.”
The police action has prompted condemnation from activists and politicians.
Labour’s Clive Lewis said the Met’s response to “a non-violent movement, campaigning for action on the climate and ecological crisis” was “plain wrong”.
Meanwhile, leading LGBT rights campaigner Peter Tatchell claimed the “pre-emptive arrest of Extinction Rebellion activists” was “an assault on civil liberties”.
“No amount of arrests can halt a just and urgent cause”, he added.
The criticism came as the group launched its opening ceremony in London’s Marble Arch. More than 1,000 people were said to have attended the event, which featured meditation and dancing.
Extinction Rebellion spokesperson Zoe Jones, 24, said Marble Arch would be used throughout the two-week protests as demonstrators move between other sites.
She said: ”The next two weeks will involve marches and family-friendly events, there’ll be some spicier actions as well and some will be arrestable.
“We’ve had 4,000 rebels sign up and say they are willing to be arrested – which is a huge increase on the number arrested in April .
“The public perception of XR is that we’re disrupting ordinary people’s lives by blocking roads and that’s why this time we’re taking our protests to the seat of power and taking it to Westminster.
“We are on the public’s side and we are ordinary people who are extremely concerned.”
The group, which was founded in the UK and staged its first action in October last year, takes inspiration from protests including Ghandi’s Satyagraha and the US civil rights movement to bring attention to climate change.
Since its inception it has caused disruption in cities across the world, bringing major thoroughfares in central London to a standstill as protesters occupied roads and glued themselves to buildings and trains.
However, the Metropolitan Police has raised concerns that the action takes officers away from other duties. Ahead of the protests, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Laurence Taylor said: “The Met has been planning the policing operation for this protest, unprecedented in its length and scale, for several months.
“They are planning a prolonged, coordinated protest, designed to bring the heart of London to a standstill and disrupt the daily business of people who live, work and are visiting London.”
He added: “The organisers have said that one of their aims is to overwhelm police resources. This is hugely disappointing and irresponsible, when officers are working hard every day to tackle violence and keep the capital safe and secure.
“Significant operations like this take officers away from their communities and core responsibilities, but Londoners can still count on the Met to respond to crime.
“To ensure that this protest is proportionately policed, officers are being drawn from across the service, with shifts extended and rest days cancelled. This will impact on officers and staff and I want to acknowledge and commend their commitment.”