'We quit': UK protest group vows to end acts of public disruption

Pledge comes weeks before seven members of Extinction Rebellion face possible prison sentences for criminal damage

Activists with the environmental group Extinction Rebellion protest outside the Washington Gas headquarters. EPA
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A protest group has pledged to end acts of public disruption, weeks before several of its members face possible prison sentences for criminal damage.

Extinction Rebellion said it will “prioritise attendance over arrest and relationships over roadblocks” in a January 1 statement titled “We Quit”.

“Our #NewYearsResolution is to halt our tactics of public disruption,” tweeted the group.

“Instead, we call on everyone to help us disrupt our corrupt government.”

In a statement shared on its website, the group acknowledged the decision to shift away from public disruption would be “controversial”.

“We recognise and celebrate the power of disruption to raise the alarm and believe that constantly evolving tactics is a necessary approach,” it said.

“What’s needed now most is to disrupt the abuse of power and imbalance, to bring about a transition to a fair society that works together to end the fossil fuel era.

“Our politicians, addicted to greed and bloated on profits won’t do it without pressure.

“We must be radical in our response to this crisis and determined in our efforts to address the climate and ecological emergency, even if it means taking a different approach than before.”

The group urged people to join a mass protest at Parliament on April 21.

Extinction Rebellion protest at Tower Bridge – in pictures

“This year, we prioritise attendance over arrest and relationships over roadblocks, as we stand together and become impossible to ignore,” it added.

The statement comes weeks before seven members are due to be sentenced for causing almost £100,000 in damage to glass panels at Barclays headquarters in April 2021.

Zoe Cohen, 52, Carol Wood, 53, Nicola Stickells, 52, Sophie Cowen, 31, Lucy Porter, 48, Gabriella Ditton, 28, and Rosemary Webster, 64, were found guilty following a trial at Southwark Crown Court in December.

The group was told to expect sentences ranging from community orders up to 18 months in prison. Judge Milne KC said “all options” have to be considered before adjourning the sentencing to January 27.

Gail Bradbrook, a co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, previously told The National she fears jail, but does not regret taking part in protests.

“It does scare me but it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t do it, just to be clear,” said Ms Bradbrook.

She said many of the group’s members were “resigned” to going to prison.

But she admitted that it was possible the judge in the Barclays HQ case could issue a harsher sentence “to put other people off”.

Ms Cohen told The National the group broke the glass because “the biosphere was dying and it still is”. As for the threat of a prison term, she said: “If it needs to happen, it needs to happen.”

Extinction Rebellion protest at Barclays HQ - in pictures

She added: “Over 1,000 suffragettes went to prison in this country and a lot of people don’t realise that — just for trying to get a voice in a democracy.”

In December, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak met police chiefs and pledged to give them whatever powers they require to crack down on disruptive protests.

Ordinary people were having their lives disrupted by environmental protests, which he said was “completely unacceptable”.

Met Police assistant commissioner Matt Twist said over a 46-day period starting in early October, the force dedicated 12,500 dedicated officer shifts … equating to more than £5.5 million [$6.7 million] to protests by Just Stop Oil members.

Updated: January 01, 2023, 4:47 PM