Photo courtesy Just Stop Oil

A Balmy Summer Evening

Thursday provided a typical British summer’s evening: blue skies and warm outside, Eastenders and Emmerdale on the television inside. The news was dominated by Reform party campaigner Andrew Parker’s suggestion to use asylum seekers arriving on England’s southern beaches as target practice for new army recruits. Inside a community centre in east London two dozen people gathered to break bread and share soup – by the end of the evening five would be arrested as part of a series of nationwide raids targeting Just Stop Oil (JSO) supporters. By mid-day Friday, the number detained reached twenty-seven. The arrests were scarcely covered by the mainstream media despite concerns that government, industry and law enforcement might be acting in unison to undermine and thwart the public’s right to organise and protest.

The World is Topsy-Turvy

“I start from the supposition that the world is topsy-turvy, that things are all wrong, that the wrong people are in jail and the wrong people are out of jail.” Howard Zinn (November 1970)

Haggerston Community Centre is in east London, a short walk north of Regents Canal. It is a landmark of a building: a two-storey box shape structure, the top floor rotated ninety degrees, the bottom floor left protruding out. It’s like a Rubik’s Cube in motion. The exterior has flint-grey metal panels punctuated with long vertical windows; some tastefully carry a lime green stripe. The construction, with its sharp clean lines, is a statement of confidence and modernity.

Inside is a main hall that can be hired by community members. It is spacious with two sets of double doors, and a double height ceiling. It is conveniently next to a kitchen. The venue has been used by JSO supporters, who periodically convene soup nights.

On Thursday evening the hall doors were wedged open to attract what little breeze there was. By 6pm a couple of dozen people were seated around white trestle tables. It was a mixed group – men and women, young and old. Some had their own water bottles, others carried paper cups dispensed from a coffee machine. Some wore sombre colours, others lit up the hall with vibrant yellows and purples. All wore sticky labels with their names handwritten in black. And yes, there was soup.

Image: Metropolitan Police video

By 6.30pm things had changed. Outside, on Lovelace Street, police vans started parking up. Doors slid open, officers stepped out, and a few onlookers gathered. There was chatter amongst the police as they moved en masse towards the hall. Some came through the main reception, others appeared at the wedged-open side doors. Within a few short moments the hall was surrounded.

“Are you detaining us?” asked a middle-aged man seated at one of the tables. He is dressed in shorts and a polo shirt and has reading glasses hanging around his neck.

“Everyone is detained at this time” responds one of the officers.

It is surreal. There is a calmness, a dignified peacefulness amongst the group despite the intimidation being projected by the police. With spoon and bowl, the group quietly continue eating, including the man who asked the question. Occasionally some gaze at their phones, tap the screen a few times, then return to their soup.

I’ve Come Here for Soup

He stares at his watch: it’s gold in colour but made from a much cheaper metal.

“The moment in time is 18:47 okay. I’m placing you under arrest for conspiracy to cause an interference to infrastructure in the UK?”

“I’ve come here for soup” the young woman replies.

She is slight and seated and shows no sign of absconding. The arm with the gold-coloured watch reaches down, takes her wrist, and handcuffs her.  The cuffs create a crunching sound as they lock on. The woman, who now has a second officer standing directly behind her, is unfazed. She is led out of the hall.

Image: Metropolitan Police video

A young man, perhaps mid-twenties, in a black t-shirt and beige jeans, is next.

“So, the grounds are that by taking part in the organisation of this event this evening, I suspect that you are taking part to plot to cause serious disruption to UK airports.”

He too is cuffed and led away, as are three others. Later that evening a sixth person, a young man named Daniel, who is visiting his parents’ home in London, is arrested for conspiracy to commit a public nuisance.

“Well, this is what happens when you resist the British state” Daniel says as he is led away.

Image: Metropolitan Police

Friday 28th June

It started around 5am – door knocking, telephone calls and text messages.

One read: “Hello . Are you about today for a chat? We want to talk to you.” The text was from the Metropolitan Police.

Gabriella, who lives a couple of hours outside of London, woke up to several missed calls.  The Metropolitan Police had visited her father’s house, her grandmother’s house, and her previous residence all before 8:30am. Officers wanted to speak with her. She rang them back and during the call they confirmed they had a warrant for her arrest and to search her house – the one they couldn’t find. Gabriella provided them with the address. She then rang two friends to come over and witness the arrest.

Three plain-clothed officers appeared two hours later. They entered the house and arrested Gabriella for ‘conspiracy to interfere with national infra-structure, in this case, airports.’

Gabriella replied: “That’s ludicrous, but okay.”

Image: Just Stop Oil

Two officers searched Gabriella’s bedroom before taking her to the nearest police station, where she was held and questioned for three hours before being released on bail. The three officers returned to London. 

In a twenty-four-hour period, beginning with the arrest at Haggerston Community Centre, a total of twenty-seven JSO supporters across ten counties were detained by the Metropolitan Police. The evidence prompting their arrests was not disclosed and none of the arrested were charged. Footage on social media shows police officers rifling through personal possessions, searching through cupboards and drawers, examining toiletries and paging through paperbacks. Laptops and phones were confiscated. Watch the footage several times and you realise how pervasive and intrusive policing has become. Listen to arrestees’ stories and you will be alarmed at how easily they were detained, how mere suspicion or association was enough to warrant arrest.    

Image: JSO
Image: JSO








Introducing a New Offence

 The arrests made by the Metropolitan Police were made under Section 7 (interference with use or operation of key national infrastructure) of the 2023 Public Order Act.

Material changes to the Public Order Act are infrequent; one happened in 1936 and one in 1986, but the changes introduced in 2023 are remembered for a very different reason. Last year’s introduction of the Public Order Act completed the UK government’s frontal assault on civil liberties and the universal right of protest by:

i) lowering the threshold to define disruptive protesting

ii) providing police with powers to act ‘in anticipation’ of protests

iii) expanding stop and search powers related to protesters

iv) introducing ban orders that effectively stop people from being able to protest at all.

The Act has drawn wide criticism, including from Amnesty International and Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

I Thought We’d Progressed

JSO supporters are confronting climate breakdown by holding to account those who are complicit. Their work is important, even if on occasion it inconveniences people, and their voices are needed. 

“Most world leaders just don’t get climate breakdown. They don’t understand how bad it’s going to be” UCL Professor Bill McGuire concluded on a recent episode of Radio Four’s Rethink programme. McGuire is clearly on to something – a red thread that when tugged sees government, industry and law enforcement protecting fossil fuel based economies while silencing dissent, in whatever form that dissent manifests itself, be it direct action or even the simple act of convening and community-building.

On Friday the Metropolitan Police issued a statement on the JSO arrests. Chief Superintendent Ian Howells, who led the operation, claimed swift and robust action was needed to protect UK airports, and that “anyone who compromises the safety and security of airports in London can expect a strong response from officers or security staff.” Does policing policy now include implicit threats to personal safety? Interestingly, Howells went on to mention how the operation involved “them [airports], agencies and other partners.”

The Metropolitan Police’s X (formerly Twitter) feed carries a series of posts relating to the JSO arrests. One of them attracted 165 replies, some were unpleasant, a couple were humorous, and one spoke to truth.

Good grief. There was a time when meeting to make life better for working people was banned. Workers were arrested, trade unions were thought of as subversive, civil rights marchers were arrested, go back to Peterloo, the suffragettes! I thought we’d progressed a bit.

The profile of the author read: Mum of 8 brill adults. Granny to 17 😎 Married to my teenage first love until his death 2001. Christian/Democratic Socialist. Won’t answer DMs

Who would have thought X (formerly Twitter) would help us appreciate eating soup has never been so dangerous, and yet so needed.

©2024 Sul Nowroz – Real Media staff writer


The trial continues at Southwark Crown Court this week of five Just Stop Oil supporters arrested for conspiracy to cause public nuisance, after a Sun reporter joined a public Zoom meeting in November 2022 and secretly recorded it, then gave the recording to the police. The UN Special Rapporteur on Environmental Defenders under the Aarhus Convention, Michel Forst, has announced that he will attend the court. In March this year, Forst wrote a letter of allegation to the UK government outlining the various grounds on which it is accused of breaching treaty obligations, but he has received no response to date.

The Network For Police Monitoring have issued a statement alleging that the Metropolitan Police’s emphasis on detaining “key organisers” suggests their main aim this week was to gain intelligence by seizing laptops and mobiles.

Just Stop Oil have announced a crowdfunding campaign to replace seized equipment.