Priti Patel slams Extinction Rebellion activists who blocked printing presses as they are cleared due to a technicality

PRITI Patel has slammed Extinction Rebellion activists who blocked printing presses – as they are cleared of any charges due to a technicality.

The Home Secretary said the protesters were "disruptive and dangerous", describing their actions as an attack on the free Press.

Dozens of eco-warriors blocked roads near printworks in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, Knowsley near Liverpool and close to Glasgow in September – halting deliveries of national newspapers.

Ms Patel said: "The free Press is a cornerstone of our democracy, and the disruptive and frankly dangerous tactics deployed by these individuals last year were totally unacceptable.

"I speak with the police day in, day out and they've told me the current legislation used for managing protests is not fit for purpose."

Three Extinction Rebellion protesters – Katie Ritchie-Moulin, 22, Harrison Radcliffe, 21, and Luca Vitale, 22 – were charged with aggravated trespass after they used a blue van and yellow boat to block the printing press in Knowsley.

They went on trial at Liverpool Magistrates' Court yesterday but were found not guilty by District Judge Paul Healey because it was unclear if they had parked on private or public land.

The judge said evidence from Alan Griffiths, a printing press manager, was "unable to say with certainty" where the boundary between public and private land was.

Judge Healey said: “I cannot be sure beyond all reasonable doubt the defendants were trespassing.”

After the decision, Ritchie-Moulin told the Liverpool Echo: “I guess it feels like we’ve got some level of justice. I’m feeling relief."


Free Speech Union general secretary Toby Young said the verdict "sets a dangerous precedent".

He said: "It sends a message to other political activists they they can muzzle the free Press without suffering the consequences."

Hertfordshire Police charged 51 people with obstruction of a highway over the Broxbourne demonstration, and they are due to come before the courts.

Newsagents – already hit by the coronavirus pandemic – suffered a downturn in trade as stands were left empty by the protest.

The stunt cost publishers £1.2 million.

Delivery rounds were forced to be scrapped at the 11th hour as newspapers were unable to be released from the printworks.

The protests were organised despite newspapers campaigning and highlighting climate change for years – with The Sun running a comment piece on the same day from Sir David Attenborough urging the public to take the opportunity to tackle the climate crisis.

Boris Johnson blasted the "completely unacceptable" protest at the time, saying a free Press is vital.

He tweeted: "A free press is vital in holding the government and other powerful institutions to account on issues critical for the future of our country, including the fight against climate change.

"It is completely unacceptable to seek to limit the public’s access to news in this way."

Health Secretary Matt Hancock also harshly criticised XR.

"Totally outrageous that Extinction Rebellion are trying to suppress free speech by blockading newspapers," he tweeted.

"They must be dealt with by the full force of the law. Newspapers are already struggling – get out there & buy a paper to support the free press."

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