Arrested while seeking a citizens arrest of
The Cabinet, March 2015
Paul Mobbs & MEIR:
‘Arrest the Cabinet’
Sometimes, as an environmental researcher, there are things which you come across which are completely awful. Events or incidents for which knowing, or telling through reports is not enough…
they require action!
In this page I will examine the events of the 5th March 2015 – the day I decided to arrest the Cabinet – and the evidence behind it.
- The Video
- The road to Downing Street
- The Process
- My day out in London, and what followed
- ‘Fracktured Accountability’: A study of political decision-making and unconventional fossil fuel interests in the Coalition Government
In order to document the proceedings of the day I invited a small group of film-makers and journalists to cover the event. This short film is a collaboration between Gathering Place Films (@NinaTailor2) and Clear Blue Films (@indyrikki).
You can find other coverage of the day here:
- Arrested anti-fracking campaigner explains why he believes ministers are guilty of misconduct, Drill or Drop, 6th March 2015.
- Arresting behaviour: smiling rambler turns warrior of justice, Jamie Kelsey-Fry, New Internationalist, 12th March 2015.
- Anti-fracking Friend arrested in Downing Street, Tara Craig, The Friend, 12th March 2015.
- Paul Mobbs arrested for attempting to arrest Govt Members for misconduct in Public Office, Occupy London, 5th March 2015.
The road to Downing Street
I've had so much positive feedback as a result of my ‘day out’ in London. Quite a bit seemed to relate to how happy and calm I was – and how was that possible in the circumstances?
It’s due to three factors:
- Firstly, I've done this sort of thing before, and have been doing so for quite a few years;
- Secondly, ‘this is what I do!’ – if you look at my work over the last thirty years, I believe that it’s far more effective to ‘use the system against’ itself rather than act in a way which makes you subject to it; and
- Thirdly, and probably most significantly, that day represented over two years of work – not full time, but a conscious part of my general research on unconventional gas and oil in Britain – so I was happy when standing in front of a line of armed police that what I was doing was correct and justifiable.
And yes, OK, being a Quaker probably does have a little something to do with that too – since I am required to act, upon long reflection and discernment, from conscience.
The road to Downing Street begins in this photograph, taken in December 2012:
At this point I'd been working on “fracking” for 3½ years – and had hit an impasse. I went for a walk early one foggy frosty morning to clear my head; to the top of a local ridge which, coincidently, had been within an area previously identified in Government reports as having coal seams beneath it suitable for underground coal gasification.
I did not decide to “arrest the Cabinet” on that day. However, given the likely probabilities, I had to accept – all other options failing to archive progress – that such action might be required.
What troubled me at that point was David Cameron’s (then) recent speech to the CBI conference.
The whole ‘shale gas’ project had started under New Labour in the early 2000s, and had been launched, with no fanfare or recognition, under the 13th On-shore Oil and Gas Licensing Round. It was putting that together with information I was receiving from the USA which led me to start looking at ‘fracking’ in 2009.
That project was picked up under the Coalition Government and given a huge boost. Not only that, what David Cameron outlined in his speech to the CBI was nothing less than a commitment to dictating policy, irrespective of whether it might infringe the law –
Consultations, impact assessments, audits, reviews, stakeholder management, securing professional buy-in, complying with EU procurement rules, assessing sector feedback this is not how we became one of the most powerful, prosperous nations on earth.
It’s not how you get things done... So I am determined to change this... Here’s how:
- Cutting back on judicial reviews.
- Reducing government consultations.
- Streamlining European legislation.
- Stopping the gold-plating of legislation at home...
We have smart people in Whitehall who consider equalities issues while they’re making the policy. We don’t need all this extra tick-box stuff...
But the truth is, Whitehall has become too risk-averse, too willing to say ‘no’ instead of ‘yes’.
There are understandable reasons for that. When you have lobby groups lined up to criticise every action you take and Parliamentary Select Committees ready to jump on every bump in the road, then the rational choice is to be cautious – even over-cautious. But for the sake of our country’s progress we have got to cut through this.
When this country was at war in the 40s, Whitehall underwent a revolution. Normal rules were circumvented. Convention was thrown out. As one historian put it, everything was thrown at the overriding purpose of beating Hitler.
Well, this country is in the economic equivalent of war today – and we need the same spirit. We need to forget about crossing every ‘t’ and dotting every ‘i’ and we need to throw everything we've got at winning in this global race.
If you have evidence, then the above might be justified. Trouble was, in late 2012, it was clear that the body of available evidence was swinging away from the Government and towards the very ‘tick boxes’ and ‘lobby groups’ who were highlighting the dangers of this policy.
However, proving that the Government were wrong, certainly to a standard where it could be relied upon in court, was another matter!
This issue of ‘proof’ had been the focus of my work since the beginning of 2013 – rather than chasing the individual hot spots of action such as Lancashire or Balcombe.
Presenting ‘Fracktured Accountability’ to the police
outside Downing Street, 5th March 2015
Since that day people have asked why I haven’t put more effort into getting media coverage.
The most important thing about this day was not media coverage; it was not about getting arrested either (although that was going to be the obvious outcome).
The most important issue that day was that the process should be lawful – which meant careful planning and implementation, and in my view that wasn’t compatible with having the media in tow.
The reason I went to arrest three Cabinet members was that I really honestly wanted to arrest them, and have them formally investigated for ‘misconduct’. Their actions were, in my view, breaking the law – with the potential to create an imminent threat to the well-being of the state and the public if they were allowed to proceed unabated.
We can’t allow politicians to get away with what would be, for people in other professions, the equivalent of serious disciplinary or potentially criminal offences.
Now, I'm going to say this in bold, just to make the point – you can’t just walk up to someone and arrest them because you don’t like them, you must have evidence of a criminal offence. (so, please, don’t try and copy me without a severe period of homework first!)
That’s why it took over two years to gather the evidence.
a graphical representation of the complex policy,
political and financial links between politics, lobbyists, and the oil and gas sector in Britain.
Having a good enough reason for arrest begins with evidence: In this case, contrary to David Cameron’s project outlined above, that proceeding with ‘fracking’ irrespective of any evidence of its harms was unlawful. To prove that I took a large report with me, ‘Fracktured Accountability’, detailing all the evidence; as well as a larger illustrative diagram, ‘The Frackogram’.
Every background paper and study referenced in that report was also held on a memory stick – so that, as an object in my possession at the time of arrest, it could be admitted as evidence in any subsequent trial.
Next, you can’t arrest anyone for anything. It has to be an indictable offence. The offence of Misconduct in Public Office is an indictable offence, with a potential maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Finally, you can’t just go and arrest someone arbitrarily. You must exhaust other reasonable means of complaint before you get to that stage. Then if there is a policeman present, you have to report the offence first – and only if they fail to act does that give a person the right to effect the arrest themselves.
That morning in Whitehall the police initially failed to act. Then, when I was persistent, they did come and take my report – and logged it as a formal complaint, with my report treated as evidence to be investigated as a crime (they never did!).
The problem was they refused to take immediate action, which in my view risked the Government undertaking further damaging and expensive actions before any investigation could be concluded. That’s why I continued to press for immediate action – which is what led to my arrest in order to remove me from the scene.
Presenting my evidence to the police
My day out in London, and what followed
When I went to Downing Street, ‘Fracktured Accountability’ was still in an early draft form because I hadn’t had the time to finish it. In my view action was needed immediately, and there was no time to produced a polished, proof-read text.
Although I'd decided that this might have to be a fall-back option in December 2012, and that the ‘imminence’ issue was pressing in early February 2015, it was not until a week before that I finally decided it was ‘necessary’ because of the new information emerging.
Though the police logged a complaint, they refused to stop the approval of changes to the planning system which would facilitate s ‘favourable’ environment for shale developers, even though the available evidence suggested there was no legitimate basis to do this.
I was arrested under the The City of Westminster (Prescribed Routes) (no.8) Traffic Order 2008, a.k.a the Downing Street and Whitehall Anti-Terrorism Traffic Order. This prohibits anyone to be in the area around Downing Street without the permission of a policeman.
As far as I can tell, given I can’t find any any ‘stopping up’ order to the contrary, technically Downing Street is still a public right of way. Arguably the local authority’s roads order is on conflict with both the law of the highway, and the reasonable exercise of police powers under the various anti-terror acts. Moreover, given that a serious offence was taking place, in my view my use of the road to find the culprits and apprehend them was lawful.
I was not charged. It wasn’t even a recordable offence, so the police still don’t have my fingerprints and DNA. Instead my action was reported to the court, the same procedure for parking tickets and other minor offences – which is what I anticipated, and why I chose to take this course of action.
After five peaceful hours reading my book in Charring Cross Police Station I was released (I actually asked if they could delay by ten minutes so I could finish it!, but they wanted shot of me). The only testing time was food; their idea of ‘vegan’ was microwaved baked beans with potato wedges.
I had a beautiful day. I met some lovely police officers (honestly!, compared to other places in the world, too many activists under-estimate the professionalism of our police services). And all the way through the day, I can say that for the first time in years (even in van on the way to the nick) I felt that what I was doing was exactly ‘where I needed to be’.
800 Years of Activism presentation, Parliament, May 2015.
Video produced by Occupy Democracy
My arraignment at Westminster Magistrates Court was on Polling Day – 7th May 2015. I get the feeling they wanted to exclude any opportunities for publicity!
I went, I plead not guilty (to the annoyance of the lead magistrate), and then I went to Parliament Square – where I had a fun hour giving my ‘800 Years of Activism’ talk in the middle of the election day mayhem. And to round the day off I walked out into North London, and had a picnic on Primrose Hill, before walking into Marylebone to ride home again.
Next up was the case management hearing. Ever since I was first arrested in the early 1980s, due to the excellent training I received back then from within the peace movement, I had always represented myself with the police and in court proceedings. That was a good thing, because legal aid had just been pretty much abolished for most people.
Following the case management hearing I submitted my case (much of which had been prepared, ready for use, before I had been arrested) and began to get ready to go to trial for the date now set in August.
Then a letter arrived a few weeks before the trial date. Case discontinued; all legal action dropped.
Obviously they had gotten someone to look at my case in detail to see where I was heading – which if I had my way was to the Court of Appeal to clarify the issue as to whether the offence of ‘misconduct in a public office’ applied to Cabinet ministers. I don’t believe they thought it was “in the public interest” for me to attempt to do that.
All that work was not wasted though.
Fracktured Accountability began to do the rounds of interested legal-types. I gave a couple of paid briefings to lawyers over the next few months. Then funding appeared. In February 2016, I wrote a very short digest of the issues at the heart of the case in a new report, ‘Whitehall’s Fracking Science Failure’.
On the 6th March 2019 – four years and-a-day after Downing Street – that report was accepted by the High Court as evidence of a failure by the government to consider public responses during a consultation process. The judged quashed the Government’s planning policy on fracking.
In the end then, was it worth it?; the hundreds of hours of research, and the financial costs of getting arrested (which, in my case, were mostly early-morning train fares as I represented myself).On reflection, yes. It’s not that the point I was trying to make was ultimately proved correct in the High Court; it’s the reasons for ‘bothering’ in the first place.
Irrespective of what happened after, at that moment, I was the one person who had the evidence of wrong-doing and, due to the inability of our political system to address its own failures, the willingness to act – and that, irrespective of the other costs, is what conscience demanded on that day.