Climate-change protesters who broke the law should pay some of the estimated £100,000 bill for policing the demonstration, a police authority spokesman said yesterday.
Iain Whyte, convener of the Lothian and Borders Police Board, also predicted the cost of policing the five-day “climate camp” protest against the Royal Bank of Scotland in Edinburgh could be even higher.
The force said yesterday it had arrested and charged 18 people in connection with the protest since the camp was established at Gogarburn on Thursday.
Protesters who oppose RBS loans to what they claim are “climate criminals” have created oil slicks on two of Edinburgh’s main routes and targeted RBS branches and the offices of two energy companies.
Yesterday afternoon a group of protesters glued themselves to a central Edinburgh branch of RBS. Six activists attempted to shut down the Princes Street branch, but were swiftly removed by police.
Mr Whyte warned that meeting the cost of the protest campaign, against a backdrop of reduced public sector funding, could result in service cuts.
He said: “There have been a lot of police officers involved and that will have included a lot of overtime and additional costs to bring in support from surrounding forces.”
An estimated 500 activists set up their Camp for Climate Action behind the RBS global headquarters to protest against its funding of fossil fuel companies, which they say are destroying the planet.
Mr Whyte said: “Where there are options to go to the people who have put on the event — where they’ve not co-operated with police, where they’ve deliberately gone out of their way to be disruptive and damage property in the city — we should be seeking to recover costs, if that’s at all possible.
“I don’t see why the people of Edinburgh and the wider Lothian and Borders region should have their policing service reduced in future years because protesters come here and choose to take illegal action.”
Mr Whyte said it looked likely that the board would have to foot the bill using reserves for spending on unforeseen emergencies.
He added: “Obviously, anything that puts an additional strain on the budget at a time when we’re looking to reduce costs in order to keep officers on the front line – when we’re talking about the possibility of up to a 25% reduction in public sector budgets over the next four years – any cost that’s additional is a strain on the resources that the board has available for the chief constable.”
A climate camp spokeswoman said: “The cost of climate change is going to far exceed the cost of any policing operation. That’s the cost I think most people are worried about.”
Five climate-change activists — three from London, one from Wales and one from France — appeared at Edinburgh Sheriff Court yesterday following protests against RBS. All pleaded not guilty and trials were set for early next year.