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Officer ‘surprised’ by Patel’s late night call to superior during XR protest

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police officer said he was “surprised” by Priti Patel’s out-of-hours call to his superior as they responded to an Extinction Rebellion (XR) protest in Hertfordshire.

Five XR activists – who were part of a 14-hour blockade that targeted Newsprinters in Broxbourne, from late on September 4 2020 – are appealing against their convictions.

They were found guilty of obstructing the highway during two trials at St Albans Magistrates’ Court in 2021.

The protesters are now questioning whether there was political interference in police actions to shut down the climate change demonstration.

Emergency services dismantle the bamboo lock-ons used to block the road outside the Newsprinters printing works at Broxbourne, Hertfordshire (Yui Mok/PA) / PA Archive

They are arguing their actions were justified by freedom of expression and by their rights to freedom of assembly and association.

Around 50 to 60 XR members used vehicles and bamboo structures to deny access to or from the Broxbourne site with some locking their hands in plastic tubes that were filled with cement.

Newsprinters, which publish papers like the Daily Telegraph, The Sun, the Times and the Daily Mail, lost an estimated £1.2 million due to the disruption which also affected nearby businesses and a hotel.

One motoring business said it had lost £125,000 due to the disruption, the court heard.

Superintendent Edward Wells, who was “silver commander” – the tactical lead for the response – told St Albans Crown Court that he was “aware” of political interest in the events as they unfolded.

He explained to the court that his role was to come up with a plan to achieve the strategic objectives set out by his “gold commander” – Hertfordshire Assistant Chief Constable Owen Weatherill.

It was said in court that Home Secretary Priti Patel made ‘multiple calls’ to Chief Constable Charlie Hall (PA) / PA Wire

The court previously heard how Mr Weatherill’s superior, Chief Constable Charlie Hall, had received multiple calls from Home Secretary Priti Patel throughout the night as officers responded to the protests.

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