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'A £1,000 fine for anyone illegally protesting on the road seems fair'

Mike Rutherford has a few suggestions on how to deal with activists who protest on the UK's road network

Opinion protestors

It's time to put a stop to their road accident-enhancing antics, before someone gets killed.

Those who’ve lately used anarchic tactics to occupy and bring havoc to our driving lanes are guilty of illegal acts, increasing the likelihood of injuries and deaths, provocatively squaring up to members of the public. Their senseless, counter-productive displays have been a textbook case of how to lose friends and not influence people. 

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Fighting the good, peaceful, legal fight for the right cause is to be applauded and respected. But making the strategic decision to do battle in the wrong place (on motorways and other major roads), at the wrong times (often during rush hour) against the wrong people (innocent members of the general public) ranks as trouble-making mayhem bordering on thuggery. Yup, I do believe conspiring gangs of ambushing activists qualify as lawless thugs. 

That said, they are masters of the art of cynically promoting their organisations. Also, they’ve figured out that the days are getting colder, damper, shorter and darker. Such eve-of-winter conditions are not an issue for the circa 50 million adults and children who legally occupy comfy, secure, well lit and warm cars daily. Conversely, they’re a problem for gangs of protesters thinking of glueing themselves to cold, wet, icy or snow-covered roads.

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So with a bit of luck and long-overdue common sense deployed, the road protest occupancy season is over for this year. No guarantees of course, but hopefully in 2022 similar shenanigans will be called off. Alternatively, they can, via promised new or updated legislation, be banned from committing their usual capers. Either way, as a civilised society we can’t stand by and allow protesters with almost suicidal tendencies and zero sense of road safety to knowingly place themselves (and others) at risk as they deliberately and lawlessly slow down or halt vehicles, which in turn increases emissions from cars, buses, coaches, vans and lorries forced to idle. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson states on the record: “I don’t call them legitimate protesters. I say they are a confounded nuisance who are blocking ambulances, stopping people going about their lives and I am glad that Priti Patel [the Home Secretary] is taking new powers to insulate them snugly in prison where they belong.”

But will they actually carry out the promise of locking them up? Instead of spending big money accommodating and feeding them in jails, strict ASBO-type measures, exclusion zones, prohibition and anti-trespass orders, electronic tagging, possibly even house arrest might be more effective, and certainly more cost-effective. 

And to make such crime-prevention measures more affordable to administer, how about a standard, non-negotiable, rigorously enforced fine for every protester every time he or she breaks the law by illegally occupying or obstructing the surface of a public road? A flat fine of £1,000 per person per illegal protest on roads they shouldn’t be walking or sitting on seems a fair punishment that fits the crime, wouldn’t you say?

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Chief columnist

Mike was one of the founding fathers of Auto Express in 1988. He's been motoring editor on four tabloid newspapers - London Evening News, The Sun, News of the World & Daily Mirror. He was also a weekly columnist on the Daily Telegraph, The Independent and The Sunday Times. 

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