Priti Patel at war with transport chiefs over eco mob disruption – as blame game erupts over the failure to stop motorway madness and the Home Secretary calls for activists to face seven-year prison terms
Sluggish moves to combat Insulate Britain have left Government departments at loggerheads, the Daily Mail can reveal.
Ministers have now given orders to seek sweeping new legal moves against the eco-activists, in the form of a tougher and far more wide-ranging injunction. Miss Patel has also instructed police chiefs to look at charging protesters with road traffic offences such as ‘causing danger to road users’ that could see them imprisoned for up to seven years.
Such a lengthy jail term would place convicted protesters in jeopardy of losing their livelihoods and their homes.
Sluggish moves to combat Insulate Britain have left Government departments at loggerheads, the Daily Mail can reveal
In a significant development last night, sources confirmed officials will seek a so-called ‘contra mundum injunction’, which will apply to anyone who breaches its terms by blocking roads, rather than against specific, named Insulate Britain activists.
In theory, this should make it easier for National Highways to ask police and the courts to enforce action against protesters for contempt of court. An interim injunction, granted by the High Court against individual protesters last week, has failed to stop the road blocks.
Yesterday the activists barred drivers from part of the M25 for an eighth day, causing long queues of traffic.
Insulate Britain protesters glued their hands to the ground at junction 30 at Thurrock in Essex at around 8am. Essex Police said all lanes were open again shortly after 10am.
Nine people were arrested on suspicion of obstructing a highway and were being held in custody last night.
Home Secretary Priti Patel was left ‘amazed’ by delays at Grant Shapps’ Department for Transport, which is running the Government’s legal response to protesters’ actions, it is understood
The group admitted that its actions are in breach of the existing injunction, which means they could be found to be in contempt of court, which carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison or an unlimited fine.
But last night no firm action appeared to have been taken to enforce the first injunction, which was obtained by National Highways at the High Court last Tuesday.
Amid reports of conflict between the Home Office and the DfT last night, sources said Miss Patel was aghast at the length of time being taken to deal with the crisis by the DfT’s highways agency.
‘The real problem is with National Highways,’ one source said. ‘Priti is concerned that it has been very slow in responding. It has just not been quick enough.’
The proposal for a contra mundum injunction – Latin for ‘against the world’ – is believed to have come from former Solicitor General Michael Ellis QC, who was appointed Paymaster General in Boris Johnson’s reshuffle last month. Proposals for the measure are being drawn up and will be put to a High Court judge within days, the Mail understands.
Yesterday deputy Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Stephen House described the protests as ‘lunacy’ and said he feared officers’ lives are at risk dealing with the demonstrations. ‘The most recent one I saw had officers running between articulated lorries that were moving on the main carriageway of the M25,’ he told the London Assembly.
Police forces have improved in their response to the protests, sometimes managing to reopen carriageways within an hour.
National Highways – previously Highways England – and its bosses at the DfT, however, have failed to respond convincingly to a crisis about to enter its fourth week.
When first asked about how they would enforce the injunction after it was flouted on Monday, National Highways wrongly said that this was an ‘enforcement matter’ for the police. However, a day later the agency said it was ‘taking legal advice’ after realising it was up to them to haul the protesters to the High Court for potential imprisonment or a fine.
On Wednesday the injunction was breached twice more, when protesters blocked junction 3 of the M25 on two occasions.
National Highways said it was ‘working with the police to establish names of the protesters and if they have been previously arrested’, despite their identities being widely reported.
Miss Patel has also instructed police chiefs to look at charging protesters with road traffic offences such as ‘causing danger to road users’ that could see them imprisoned for up to seven years
Simultaneously, the DfT claimed it could not ‘comment on the specifics around ongoing legal matters’, despite contempt of court proceedings being public. By Wednesday evening, however, the DfT said it was ‘already knocking on doors and serving papers to offenders who will be sent to court and could face fines or prison’.
But it failed to reveal how many of the activists had actually been served with legal papers, despite repeated requests to clarify the situation. Yesterday a spokesman for the judiciary said the High Court had not yet received any notification that the Government had begun proceedings against any of the protesters involved.
A further High Court hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.
The protest group is calling on the Government to insulate all UK homes by 2030 to cut carbon emissions. An Insulate Britain spokesman said: ‘We are raising the tempo this week as, despite the urgency of the situation, there has been no meaningful response from the Government to our demands.’
Essex Police thanked drivers for their patience and understanding during the latest protests.