“Tunnelling” protests are to be made a criminal offence, under the latest move by Home Secretary Priti Patel to restrict people’s abilities to protest.
Ms Patel is to bring forward an amendment to the Public Order Bill that will “make it a criminal offence to cause serious disruption by creating and occupying tunnels”, with a new maximum sentence of three years’ imprisonment and an unlimited fine.
The Government cited the digging of make-shift tunnels by protesters opposed to HS2 and climate groups opposed to fossil fuels, with the eco-activist “Swampy” infamous for occupying tunnels for days on end to halt construction projects.
It is only the latest in a series of moves by the Home Secretary aimed at clamping down on protests, the upcoming bill also creating a new criminal offence of “locking on” – a tactic commonly used by climate campaigners, who physically attach themselves to buildings or roadways in a bid to cause disruption.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, which was passed into law in May, greatly expanded police powers relating to protests – criminalising protests that are deemed a “public nuisance” and allowing officers to impose conditions such as maximum noise levels and mandatory start and finish times.
The law also increased the maximum penalties for “willful obstruction of a highway” from £1,000 to an unlimited fine or six months’ imprisonment.
The expanded powers apply to single-person protests that “may cause a significant impact on those in the vicinity”.
Ms Patel said: “This country will not be held to ransom by so-called activists unconcerned about putting the lives of others in danger.
“These death traps don’t just put lives at risk, they divert precious police resources away from where they are needed most.
“These measures will give our police the powers they need to crack down on this lawlessness and continue to make our streets safer.”
Sam Grant of campaign group Liberty previously said anti-protest measures in the Public Order bill are “yet another power grab from a Government determined to shut down accountability”.
It said: “This is all part of the Government’s continued attempts to rewrite the rules so only they can win, and prevent ordinary people from having their say.”
Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK chief, said: “It’s frightening to see the Home Secretary demonising people who are simply exercising their right to peaceful protest.
“These authoritarian provisions, recently removed by the Lords from the Policing Bill, are similar to repressive policies in countries the UK regularly criticises, including Russia, Hong Kong and Belarus.”