The arrests of more than 750 climate change protesters in six days have been part of an unprecedented policing operation, London’s most senior police officer said, as hundreds of extra officers were drafted in to help.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said she had not experienced a similar operation in almost four decades as a police officer, as officers continue to attempt to clear demonstrators from the capital’s streets.
Ms Dick said she will be talking to the Government and criminal justice colleagues to see if changes to the police’s powers should be made to help officers deal with non-violent demonstrators more effectively.
Extinction Rebellion members, who have set up a garden on Waterloo Bridge, showed no signs of voluntarily shifting under the hot sun on Saturday, watched by tourists and families enjoying the Easter weekend.
Ms Dick said: “We have shown that we are strong, we are determined.
“I have never – I’ve been a police officer for 36 years – I have never known an operation, a single operation, in which over 700 people have been arrested.
“It shows we are determined and we will carry on.”
Police have been trying to confine the protests to one site in London, at Marble Arch, but protesters have ignored the threat of arrest and continued to block areas across the capital.
On Saturday afternoon the police managed to successfully clear demonstrators in the junction at Oxford Circus, which was reopened to traffic, while dozens of officers carried out arrests on Waterloo Bridge and slowly removed campaigners who had attached themselves to a truck acting as a stage.
Despite the large police presence, the atmosphere remained calm, with demonstrators chanting “we love you” as officers advanced and formed a cordon around the truck.
The Metropolitan Police has “requested mutual aid” from other forces to deal with the ongoing disruption.
The Commissioner said she was grateful for the help from “hundreds” of officers drafted in from “several” forces, including the neighbouring City of London.
She added that custody suites in London were “certainly very busy” but not yet full, amid reports from demonstrators that some people had been taken outside of the capital.
Ms Dick said she was “not embarrassed” about the length of time it is taking officers to clear the streets, defending their “determination and the resilience and the courage that they are showing in the face of quite a lot of difficulty”.
She predicted that large numbers would be “furious” if the demonstrations affect the London Marathon, which will take place next Sunday.
Asked if the Met would be reflecting on the past week to ensure this level of disruption is not repeated in future, she said: “We will pause in the Met and have a good think about whether there is anything we could do differently, what we’ve learned from this, how we adapt our tactics.
“We will also be talking to the Government and to our colleagues in the criminal justice system to see whether there are changes that should be made in the legal framework to make it easier for us to deal with people who are not violent, but are refusing to move when it is unlawful for them to stay there protesting any longer.
“That is the dilemma and if our powers are insufficient, if we don’t have sufficient deterrents in the criminal justice system, then I will certainly be asking for changes. But I don’t think now is the time to go into the detail of that, we obviously need to think about it.”
Greta Thunberg, the teenage founder of the school strikes against climate change, is expected to address the protesters on Easter Sunday.
The 16-year-old Swedish activist is due to meet senior British politicians next week having already met with Pope Francis and addressed the European Parliament.
It comes as a video of police officers dragging demonstrators along the ground by the arms on Friday emerged, after Home Secretary Sajid Javid urged police to use the “full force of the law”.
In the footage, a woman is seen being dragged along the road close to Oxford Circus by a police officer who then stumbles and falls over, knocking his hat off.
Another officer is seen dragging a man sideways.
It is one of the more aggressive encounters between police and demonstrators, which have so far remained largely good-natured and peaceful.
The group has pledged to continue causing disruption until its demands are met.
It wants the Government to declare a climate emergency and take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.