The band of eco activists who attempted to blockade the printworks

The band of eco activists who attempted to blockade the printworks

Gallery of hypocrites: An Independent newspaper columnist, tech boss, a taxman and a former Paratrooper… meet the ragtag band of eco activists who attempted to blockade free speech with printworks protest

One is a former paratrooper, another a 22-year-old ‘birth-striker’ who vows she will never have children for the sake of the planet.

They were among the ragtag – and rather middle-class – band of printworks rebels who attempted to blockade free speech on Friday night.

Others included a failed would-be MP and a retired taxman. All eight featured here marched on newspaper printers to impose their views and suppress all others.

Extinction Rebellion’s protests led to a night of chaos and 81 arrests in Knowsley, Merseyside, and Broxbourne, Hertfordshire.

Almost 80 people were charged yesterday but currently none faces prison sentences of more than three months if convicted. 

Student activist Katie Ritchie-Moulin was among the ragtag – and rather middle-class – band of printworks rebels who attempted to blockade free speech by trying to halt several major national newspapers from going to print on Friday night

1. Katie Ritchie-Moulin, 21

A veteran of direct action climate protests, the student grew up in a prosperous Birmingham suburb.

Her psychologist father Lawrence Moulin, 63, has overseen mental health policies across the West Midlands while her mother, Fiona Ritchie, 55, has a health and social care consultancy with experience of managing multi-million pound budgets.

Miss Ritchie-Moulin was pictured chained to railings outside Leeds Civic Hall in January with a bike lock around her neck and a placard reading ‘Airport expansion is ecocide!’ in an Extinction Rebellion ‘die-in’ against plans to expand Leeds-Bradford Airport.

At the time Miss Ritchie-Moulin, who is studying medical science at the University of Leeds, admitted feeling ‘very cold’ and agreed that chaining herself to railings could be seen as drastic. But she insisted expanding the airport would be ‘pretty drastic too’.

There was no one home yesterday at the family’s £730,000 three-storey red brick house in the wealthy suburb of Moseley. She was charged with aggravated trespass over the blockade in Knowsley.

2. Donnachadh McCarthy, 61

Former Parliamentary candidate and Independent columnist Donnachadh McCarthy

The deputy chairman of the Liberal Democrats from 2000 to 2003 stood unsuccessfully against Labour’s Harriet Harman as an MP in Peckham in 2001.

He attended the Broxbourne protest as a ‘spokesman’ for XR, and is not believed to have been among those arrested.

Originally from Cork, he told the Mail he works as an eco-auditor who helps businesses be more environmentally friendly. He said: ‘We wanted people to wake up on Saturday morning and go to buy their paper and ask, “Why isn’t it here?” They may be angry, but in a few weeks’ time they may start paying attention to the warnings.

‘We don’t want to be arrested, most of the people are lovely people. The police say they love coming to our protests because there’s never trouble.’

Mr McCarthy was arrested during the Occupy London protests in 2014. He claims his house in Camberwell was London’s first carbon-negative home, with solar hot water and electricity, a wind turbine and a rain-harvester.

He is also notably a columnist for the Independent news website, where he writes about environmental issues and planning policy.

3. Lydia Dibben, 22

Student Lydia Dibben with a bike D-lock around her neck at an XR protest

The student from Surrey is a self-declared ‘birth-striker’, saying she will never have children for the sake of the environment.

She vowed at a rally last year: ‘How could I bring up a child in a world that doesn’t care about their future? I declare that I will not bear children, but I will continue the fight for climate justice, and hope that our actions will improve the future for all the children, of every species, that are already living on this beautiful planet.’

Expressing her support for ‘mass, non-violent, civil disobedience’, the red-haired Leeds University zoology student said her objective was ‘to wake up the passive masses that are sleep-walking towards extinction’.

When she joined Extinction Rebellion, her mother Stefanie posted online: ‘I can’t express how proud of her I am.’

Miss Dibben lives with her mother and jewellery designer father Jon, 53, in a £350,000 house in a village near Horsham. She was charged with aggravated trespass over the blockade in Knowsley.

4. Gully Bujak, 27

A self-styled ‘actress, model and extra’, she was seen sprawled on a blow-up mattress atop a bus during the Hertfordshire protest.

When she was arrested and led away by a WPC, she gushed about her ‘extraordinary’ fellow protesters as if they were cast members in a hit West End show.

The activist said: ‘The climate emergency is an existential threat to humanity. Instead of publishing this on the front page every day as it deserves, much of our media ignores the issue and some actively sow seeds of climate denial.

‘To these papers we say this: you will not come between us anymore.’

5. Robert Possnett, 58

Former Paratrooper Robert Possnett calls himself a ‘literary snob and real ale lover’

The former Paratrooper loves beer, good books – and causing disruption. Mr Possnett describes himself as a ‘literary snob and real ale lover’ on social media and boasted on Twitter of joining Friday night’s protest at the Broxbourne plant.

He has previously been convicted over his attendance at an XR protest.

Yesterday one of his sons told the Mail that he was a ‘very passionate climate change protester’.

The family live in a large chalet-style home in leafy Great Barton, near Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. The property is full of books with the windows used as bookshelves.

One neighbour said: ‘Robert’s been campaigning for a long time now. He’s a lovely bloke who loves his beer but I’m sure a few people round here were upset this morning when they could not get their newspapers.’

6. Jon Fuller, 62

An ex-civil servant at HM Revenue and Customs, he is a veteran campaigner who was arrested by the pink boat in Oxford Circus in last year’s Extinction Rebellion protests.

He stood for Parliament as a Green Party candidate in Southend in 2015, coming fifth.

At Broxbourne, he told the Mail: ‘We beg the media to now tell the truth. We’re out of time.’

7. Donald Bell, 64

Former infantryman Donald Bell

As a young infantryman in the British Army, he was hit by shrapnel from an IRA car bomb that killed two other soldiers in Stewartstown in 1974.

Mr Bell completed four tours of duty with the Royal Anglican Regiment.

These days, he is fighting climate change.

In February, he was seen digging up the lawn at Cambridge’s Trinity College and was later arrested after gluing himself to a police van, telling reporters he had been writing letters to the Government for nearly 50 years but was always ignored.

He said: ‘We had to be more disruptive. I just felt compelled to do something for my children and grandchildren.’

8. Richard Hallewell, 49

The father of four from Thurston, Suffolk, is the director of two tech companies including a software firm.

He held the banner that blocked the road at Broxbourne, and said: ‘We have tried all the nice things, we have written to our MPs, we have done all those things and nothing happens.’

Tech company director and father of four Richard Hallewell

Eco zealots could face FIVE YEARS in jail: Priti Patel threatens to change law to make Extinction Rebellion a criminal gang so tougher sentences can be handed out

ByJason Groves Political Editor For The Daily Mail 

Extinction Rebellion protesters who attack our way of life should face jail, Priti Patel warns today.

The Home Secretary has ordered a review of the law aimed at toughening sentences for the environmental extremists after they blockaded newspaper print works in a bid to stifle free speech.

Options being considered include designating the group as an organised crime gang, which would leave militants open to the threat of up to five years in jail.

Writing in the Daily Mail today, Miss Patel says the activists should ‘face the full force of the law’ for pursuing ‘guerrilla tactics… that seek to undermine and cause damage to our society’.

Around 100 protesters who targeted Newsprinters printing works at Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, and Knowsley, near Liverpool, in a bid to stifle free speech have been warned they could face jail time after a change to the law is mooted

Home Secretary Priti Patel has ordered a review of the law aimed at toughening sentences for the environmental extremists

One of the protesters from the bamboo lock-ons is lead away by a police officer outside the Newsprinters printing works at Broxbourne, Hertfordshire

She adds: ‘I am committed to ensuring that the police have powers required to tackle the disruption caused by groups such as Extinction Rebellion. 

‘We must defend ourselves against this attack on capitalism, our way of life and ultimately our freedoms.’

A Home Office source confirmed that Miss Patel wants to see harsher sentences against the ringleaders of a group whose actions seem designed to maximise economic damage and disruption.

‘We want to see some people banged up instead of escaping with a fine they can pay from their trust fund,’ the source said. 

Extinction Rebellion protestors block access of a printing house in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, leaving some newsagents’ shelves empty on Saturday morning

‘Friday night’s blockade of print facilities in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, and Knowsley, Merseyside, disrupted the distribution of 1.5million newspapers, including the Daily Mail, the Sun, the Times and the Telegraph. 

Miss Patel’s intervention came as:

  • Ministers ordered police to ensure there was no repeat, with Boris Johnson personally ringing the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick.
  • Sir Keir Starmer faced pressure to condemn Labour’s former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, who likened the XR protesters to the suffragettes.
  • Police chiefs faced criticism for their ‘softly-softly’ approach to the protests.
  • Extinction Rebellion was forced to deny it has been infiltrated by far-Left militants such as the Socialist Workers Party.

Friday night’s blockades drew condemnation from across government, with the Prime Minister saying that it was ‘completely unacceptable to seek to limit the public’s access to news in this way’.

Police and fire services outside the Newsprinters printing works at Broxbourne, Hertfordshire

The blockades were the latest in a string of direct action protests that have seen the Metropolitan Police issue 20 fixed penalty notices of £10,000 each under the coronavirus regulations. 

Last night Government sources said Miss Patel and the PM had asked officials to conduct a rapid review of the law. 

Labour’s Abbott compares them to suffragettes 

Labour’s Diane Abbott sparked outrage yesterday as she defended the Extinction Rebellion activists who blockaded newspaper printing presses.

Miss Abbott criticised Government plans to reclassify them as an organised crime gang, describing the protests as a ‘legal tactic’.

She said: ‘They’re not criminals, they’re protesters and activists in the tradition of the suffragettes and the hunger marches of the 1930s.’

The former shadow home secretary told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: ‘I think it’s important to remind ourselves that direct action – which is what those actions were – is actually legal.’

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: ‘I’m astounded at Diane Abbott’s remarks. The idea that it is right to damage property or intervene with a free press in the name of progressive protest is, I think, perverse.’ 

Options include using the 2015 Serious Crime Act to designate the group as an organised crime gang – potentially leaving activists open to jail terms of up to five years.

Ministers are also looking at new powers under the Public Order Act to protect ‘critical national infrastructure and tenets of democracy’. 

This could make it illegal for protesters to blockade sites such as Parliament, the courts or newspaper printing plants.

Extinction Rebellion has caused widespread disruption to people and businesses in a string of direct action protests. A Government source said: ‘The fact is that they do organise to commit crimes.’

Richard Walton, former head of counter-terrorism at the Met, said the group was an extremist organisation whose methods needed to be ‘confronted and challenged’. 

Mr Walton, now a senior fellow at the Policy Exchange think-tank, said there was ‘ample justification’ for the police to use intrusive surveillance against the group.

Extinction Rebellion said it would be ridiculous to classify the group as an organised crime gang.

In a statement last night, the group said: ‘According to the Government’s own strategy “organised crime” is “characterised by violence or the threat of violence and by the use of bribery and corruption”. 

That is hardly an accurate description of the thousands of ordinary people who take part in Extinction Rebellion’s non-violent protests.’

The group claimed its targeting of print works was designed to force newspapers to give more coverage to climate change. 

But the action led to many Sun readers missing an interview with Sir David Attenborough on the subject. Academic studies suggest newspaper coverage of climate issues has been rising in recent years.

STEPHEN GLOVER: How to beat the eco warrior bullies? Apply the law!

For those who remember militant trade unionists laying siege to newspaper offices in the 1980s, the scenes outside printing plants in Hertfordshire and on Merseyside on Friday night and Saturday morning brought back bad memories.

Only this time it wasn’t trade unions stifling a free Press by blocking the distribution of newspapers. The culprits were Extinction Rebellion activists – usually middle-class types who are uninterested in debate and have no respect for democracy.

How does society cope with such people? The extremists are not peaceful protesters making a point, as is their right. They are prepared to bring a great city such as London to a halt, causing inconvenience to hundreds of thousands of blameless individuals.

Indeed, although any attempt to suppress newspapers is chilling because it evokes communist or fascist regimes, interference in the lives of ordinary people is probably worse because of the sheer extent of the disturbance.

For those who remember militant trade unionists laying siege to newspaper offices in the 1980s, the scenes outside printing plants in Hertfordshire and on Merseyside on Friday night and Saturday morning brought back bad memories. Pictured: Mounted officers hold back striking print workers outside News International’s Wapping Plant

Extinction Rebellion (XR) succeeded in April 2019 and again last October in immobilising the nation’s capital. Bridges and roads were blocked, public transport suspended. Other cities suffered similar upheavals, if on a smaller scale.

Together the protests set back the Metropolitan Police at least £37million. Contrast its annual budget of just £15million for a violent crime taskforce operating in London.

The financial burden of the disruption on businesses and shops, although impossible to calculate precisely, may have been even greater. One estimate is that just two days of malarkey cost companies in the West End £12million, with footfall and spending down a quarter.

Other protest groups in the fairly recent past such as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament or the women of Greenham Common seem reasonable, moderate and considerate compared to the often destructive Extinction Rebellion.

Extinction Rebellion (XR) succeeded in April 2019 and again last October in immobilising the nation’s capital. Bridges and roads were blocked, public transport suspended

So I think the Government is correct to view this organisation, which has apparently been infiltrated by several Far Left groups, as unusually ruthless and dangerous.

But it doesn’t follow that XR should be reclassified as an ‘organised crime group’, as is reportedly one option being contemplated by the Government. The thinking is this would enable the authorities to hand out much more severe sentences.

The trouble is that Extinction Rebellion can’t accurately be described as an organised crime group, which is defined by the Crown Prosecution Service as having ‘at its purpose, or one of its purposes, the carrying on of criminal activities’.

However obnoxious some of Extinction Rebellion’s activists may be, and however ready they are to break the law, the organisation as a whole is plainly not engaged in a criminal conspiracy.

To reclassify it in such terms would be to risk making martyrs of its misguided leaders. More seriously still, it might be seen to create a precedent that, when the Government disapproves of people exercising their right of free speech, they can be redesignated as criminals.

No, let’s not treat XR in that way. There is no need to. For there are already enough existing laws in the police’s armoury, if only they had the gumption to apply them.

Unfortunately, on Friday night and Saturday morning the police were slow to act. At the printing plants in Hertfordshire and on Merseyside, they failed to start clearing Extinction Rebellion protesters for more than six hours. In the end, there were 80 arrests. Their relaxed attitude recalls the laid-back behaviour of the some of the police during the demonstrations in London last year. Absurdly, officers were filmed raving with protesters, while one policeman was spotted skateboarding on Waterloo Bridge.

Labour’s Diane Abbott defended the protest, saying direct action is a ‘legal tactic’ and adding that it would be ‘ridiculous’ for the Government to reclassify Extinction Rebellion

Have ordinary police officers gone soft? Or is it just their timorous, politically correct bosses? There is a new tendency to try to make common cause with protesters, as evidenced by officers ‘taking the knee’ in Black Lives Matter demonstrations in June.

No one could be a more enthusiastic believer than I am in the concept of policing by consent, but that does not comprise doing nothing when existing laws are clearly being broken.

Isn’t obstructing the Queen’s highway against the law? The 1980 Highways Act states that ‘if a person, without lawful authority or excuse, in any way wilfully obstructs the free passage along a highway, he is guilty of an offence’.

What about the law of aggravated trespass? Trespassing while at the same time intentionally obstructing, disrupting or intimidating others from carrying out ‘lawful activities’ is a criminal offence.

Not for the first time, Labour MP and former Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott was mistaken when she asserted yesterday that blockading newspaper printing plants was a ‘legal tactic’.

In an article in today’s Mail, Home Secretary Priti Patel hints at new laws. There has been speculation that these could protect judges, MPs and even journalists going about their normal business. Well, conceivably, if it proves necessary.

But we should beware of laws aimed at Extinction Rebellion – and certainly avoid treating it as a criminal organisation. Let’s use existing legislation, which safeguards free speech on the one hand, and doesn’t allow bullies to destroy livelihoods on the other.

All we need then is a robust and sensible police force that is determined to enforce the law.

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