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18th Apr 2019

Police officers forced to cancel leave and rest days ahead of Heathrow climate protest

Met police commissioner Cressida Dick said protesters should expect a 'robust response'

Oli Dugmore

Metropolitan Police officers arrest an Extinction Rebellion protester

Met police commissioner Cressida Dick said protesters should expect a ‘robust response’

Police officers have had their annual leave and rest days cancelled as climate change protests organised by Extinction Rebellion enter their fifth day.

The group intends to target Heathrow airport on Good Friday, as the UK’s busiest airport enters the holiday period. Some 1,300 flights run out of Heathrow every day.

More than 480 arrests have been made in London at climate change protests this week.

A protester at the Extinction Rebellion demonstration in Oxford Circus sounds a conch (Credit: Leon Neal)

The Met police’s commissioner, Cressida Dick, said any demonstrators should expect a “robust response.”

She said: “The fact it’s gone on for the number of days it has does mean it’s increasing in intensity – of course the disruption that Londoners have faced has continued over those days.

“We have had information that the protesters intend to target Heathrow Airport. We want to make it very clear that we are aware of that – it’s been made very obvious in social media.”

“Protesters can expect a robust police response. We are determined to keep the airport operating.”

Metropolitan Police officers arrest an Extinction Rebellion protester

A Scotland Yard spokesperson said: “Throughout the course of today, Thursday, 18 April, we will have had more than 1,000 officers on the streets policing the demonstrations.

“This is putting a strain on the Met and we have now asked officers on the boroughs to work 12-hour shifts; we have cancelled rest days and our Violent Crime Task Force (VCTF) have had their leave cancelled.

“This allows us to free up significant numbers of officers whilst responding to local policing. We would also like to reassure people that we have ring-fenced the VCTF so we retain the capacity to deal with any unrelated violent incidents.

“However, the protesters need to understand that their demonstration is meaning officers are being diverted away from their core local duties that help keep London safe and that this will have implications in the weeks and months beyond this protest as officers take back leave and the cost of overtime.”

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “I’m extremely concerned by reports that climate protesters are planning to disrupt Heathrow Airport tomorrow. This is extremely dangerous, illegal and is putting an unacceptable toll on our police force and our city.

“I support the democratic right to peaceful protest and agree that governments need to do more to tackle climate change, but these protests are now putting Londoners’ safety at risk.

“More than 1,000 police officers have been responding to the protests across London this week and more than 460 people have been arrested. The operation is having a significant impact on the police, with rest days and leave being cancelled for officers. The Met have requested mutual aid support from other police forces to support their operation at Heathrow.

“Our hard-working police officers have my full backing in their efforts to keep Londoners safe and to keep our city running, but I am now very concerned about the impact the protests will have on our ability to tackle issues like violent crime if they continue any longer.

“I urge everyone to co-operate with the police and comply with their instructions by attending Marble Arch as part of the legal protest – Marble Arch is the designated place that anyone wanting to protest should attend. If protesters don’t, and break the law, the police will have no choice but to make arrests. ”