'Blade runners' vandalise hundreds of Ulez cameras across London

City's police have recorded hundreds of crimes relating to low-emission initiative

Police released a photo of a man they want to trace. PA
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Vandals have committed almost 300 crimes against cameras installed on London's roads to enforce a clean-air zone that imposes a daily charge on drivers, police said on Friday

Protesters opposed to the Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez) expansion, who call themselves Blade Runners, are believed to be responsible for vandalising the enforcement cameras installed by Transport for London (TfL).

As 2,750 cameras were erected in the new areas that the zone will cover, 288 crimes were recorded against Ulez cameras, with 164 being stolen and 185 cases of cables being damaged as of August 1.

Several offences can be linked to one camera, such as a cable being cut and then the camera being stolen.

Police launched an operation in April after receiving reports of theft and damage to the cameras and purported videos of the vandalism surfaced online on social media platforms.

“These are clearly unacceptable acts of criminality and we have a team of officers investigating and identifying those responsible,” Cmdr Owain Richards.

“We are providing a proportionate policing response, balancing these incidents against the wide range of operational demand and crime we must respond to across London.

“We are working closely with TfL and, alongside our investigation into offences already committed, we are supporting them identify new ways to prevent further cameras from being damaged or stolen.

“We are continually reviewing where we need to focus our efforts and we will continue to do that over the coming weeks to ensure we are providing the service Londoners expect from us.”

Police released a photo of a man they want to trace in connection with four camera offences in Hillingdon, Harrow and Uxbridge on June 17.

Images also emerged this week of Ulez cameras and their wires being given extra protection, including through the use of black metal boxes.

The Ulez expansion is controversial in those areas of London where it is expanding into – mostly because of its daily cost when the country is also tackling rampant inflation that has caused the price of staples to rocket.

Ulez charges the drivers of the most polluting vehicles and is an expansion of a system that started in central London and was first extended to some inner boroughs.

The next expansion, planned for August 29, has been championed by London Mayor Sadiq Khan as essential to bring down deaths linked to air pollution and combat climate change.

Critics say its £12.50 ($16) daily charge for drivers of the most polluting vehicles is unfair on thousands of motorists during a cost-of-living crisis.

The crimes underscore the polarising nature of the Ulez debate in London. Last month, a legal challenge from five local authorities failed to stop it going ahead.

It was also blamed for a narrow by-election defeat in outer London last month for the opposition Labour Party.

Labour was expected to take the seat in what would have been a sign of the ruling party’s unpopularity but its candidate ran on the local Ulez issue.

Mayor Khan has announced £50 million in additional funding to extend a Ulez car scrappage programme to all drivers.

TfL says nine out of 10 cars seen driving in outer London on an average day comply with the Ulez standards.

Figures obtained by the RAC show more than 690,000 licensed cars in the whole of London will probably be non-compliant.

Updated: August 18, 2023, 12:09 PM