The independent London newspaper

Airing their grievances: not your normal sort of rebel

13 June, 2019 — By John Gulliver

Dorothea Hackman, left, and Kate Bernstock at a meeting organised by Momentum in protest against HS2

THEY are often the very last people you’d expect to be natural rebels – but if you are in Camden Town next Wednesday afternoon you’ll spot them in the rush hour if all goes to plan.

They’ll be sitting down at the junction of Camden High Street and Parkway causing a panic for the traffic!

But all well-intentioned, it seems, because the “rebels” hope the sit-down will warn drivers not to bring their cars into London the next day – Thursday – known as International Clean Air Day.

They are part of an unexpected breed of rebels signed up for the new radical environ­mental movement – Extinction Rebellion.

They blocked Oxford Circus and Parliament Square recently with little public dissent as you may recall.

Unlike other protesters they liaise with the police before demonstrations, giving them the time and place of their protests.

Their protests are planned down to the minute. I was surprised to discover, for instance, that they usually time their street “sit-downs” to seven minutes – no more, no less.

“The police allow you to sit down for up to seven minutes,” said Dorothea Hackman, a leading member of Camden Civic Society, as well as the radical Labour offshoot, Momentum.

She didn’t seem to know exactly why but I assume anything less than seven minutes could complicate a prosecution case in court.

I met her at a meeting organised by Momentum on Monday in protest against the ill-starred HS2 project where a leading XR activist, Kate Bernstock spoke.

I have come across XR enthusiasts in the past few weeks – and they are often the types who have marched and protested in the last year or so over clean air, the suffocating levels of emissions, and the general degradation of our planet and feel they have got nowhere.

One of them wrote a fascinating account of her arrest in Oxford Street in a local magazine, On the Hill, describing how it was “frightening” at first but as the day wore on she got used to dancing in the street and sitting on the tarmac. Not a “natural rebel”, as she described herself, she was carted off by four police officers to the West End Central police station late in the afternoon as she shouted at tourists: “I’m doing this for my grand­children!”

She was finally released from her cell at 5.30 the next morning. It must have been a shock to her sensibilities though she doesn’t mention it, simply saying she was “met with chocolate cake” by fellow XR supporters.

Altogether 1,065 protesters were arrested that day but only 53 were charged.

At first, it seemed the police didn’t quite know how to deal with the extraordinary size of the West End protest but to some extent they were inhibited by a new law for most crimes that limits bail to 28 days – something that can complicate the legal process.

However, the Met Police appeared to have found a solution – instead of putting “suspects” on bail they are free to place them in a special category labelled “for investiga­tion”.

I understand that since the new bail law came into force in 2017 many “suspects” have been left languishing under “investigation” for several months.

The retired woman who wrote about her arrest is one of them. And it’s a shadow hanging over her.


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