Dame Priti Patel: Government lawyers blocked plans to make climate protesters pay for damage

Just Stop Oil activists
Just Stop Oil activists protest in central London in June 2023 - Aaron Chown/PA

Government lawyers blocked plans to force protesters to pay compensation for public disruption three years ago, says Dame Priti Patel.

The former home secretary said she pushed for greater use of compensation orders against groups such as Just Stop Oil and Insulate Britain when she was in office but was thwarted amid concerns over the practical difficulties of the measures such as setting up a payment mechanism.

A government-commissioned review has proposed forcing protest groups to pay compensation for the disruption they cause to members of the public and businesses.

Activists who deliberately block roads or create obstructions would have to pay court-ordered compensation to individuals, businesses or institutions who could show they had suffered loss, distress or suffering from the protest under the review’s plans, due to be published on Tuesday.

The measures – which are understood to be supported in principle by Number 10 – are designed to hold the protesters to account for incidents where ambulances have been held up, families have missed hospital appointments, businesses have lost thousands of pounds in trade and employees were delayed getting to work.

Dame Priti Patel
Dame Priti Patel: 'These measures could have been introduced three years ago' - Hollie Adams/Bloomberg

They could also apply to incidents such as students being prevented from attending lectures or being awarded their degrees because of occupations by pro-Palestine protests on campuses.

The proposals form part of a long-awaited independent review into political violence and disruption in the UK by Lord Walney, the Government’s independent adviser. The report will set out more than 40 recommendations on ways for ministers and public bodies to deal with violent and disruptive protests.

Dame Priti said: “The British public are fed up with irresponsible protesters hellbent on causing damage and disruption. The damage, delays and missed appointments they cause impact on lives and the economy and it is right that those responsible are held to account and made to pay.

“I have been a long-standing campaigner for greater use of compensation orders in the criminal justice system and made the case for this to happen when I was in government through our protest Bill.

“These measures could have been introduced three years ago, giving the public greater protections from the irresponsible and selfish actions of some protesters and proper redress for the costs of their dangerous actions.”

Dame Priti was home secretary when some of London’s busiest areas were brought to a standstill for days by Extinction Rebellion (XR) protests in April and October 2019.

Met Police officers were assaulted

Policing of the two protests cost £37 million, more than twice the annual budget of London’s violent crime task force. Over the summer of 2020, 172 Met Police officers were assaulted during Black Lives Matter protests while more than 1,000 arrests were made during Insulate Britain actions, which blocked motorways including the M25.

A law introduced by Dame Priti gave police more powers to impose conditions on static protests such as those which saw XR occupy Parliament Square, created stop and search powers to prevent serious disruption by protests and lowered the threshold for prosecuting for nuisance and breach of conditions

The compensation plans were welcomed by Sir Robert Buckland, who was justice secretary at the time. “It needs to be looked at urgently,” he said. “Why shouldn’t people who are perpetrators of this not pay for the damage?”

The Telegraph understands the review will recommend that Home Office and Ministry of Justice officials should be tasked to devise a legal framework to enable individuals to be compensated where they can show they have suffered loss from illegal protests. It will say prosecutions alone have failed to deter unlawful action.