Seventy four people have been charged over Insulate Britain road blockade protests in Kent, the county’s police force has said, in what is believed to be the first criminal proceedings against the activist group.
The force said a total of 104 charges had been laid against Insulate Britain members in relation to protests that took place on the M25 and on roads near the port of Dover in September and October last year.
All 74 defendants have been summonsed to appear at Crawley magistrates court from April. There were 73 charges of public nuisance, 29 charges of obstruction and two charges of criminal damage to a police car, Kent police said in a statement on Friday.
Insulate Britain activists had previously only faced civil action over their protests, with at least 15 jailed after a high court hearings for breaching injunctions obtained by National Highways banning them from blocking parts of the road network.
Insulate Britain said members had also been charged after investigations by the Metropolitan police and Hertfordshire constabulary, but the Guardian was unable to confirm details of the charges at the time of writing.
The carried out a campaign of disruptive protests between September and October, blocking roads at rush hour, gluing themselves and causing traffic chaos in an effort to pressure the government into a national programme to insulate every home in the country by 2030.
Activists said such a programme would be both a concrete first step in tackling the climate crisis and a measure to combat fuel poverty. But their methods proved divisive. Although the group had many supporters, many motorists accused them of targeting the wrong people and even fellow environmental activists warned its campaign could be counterproductive and chose to distance themselves from the group.
At one stage police were deployed at every junction of the M25 in an attempt to stop the group, while ministers railed against “ecowarriors” who were “destroying people’s lives” and Boris Johnson called for powers to “insulate them snugly in prison”.
The group had said it would continue its campaign until its demands were met or its members jailed, but last month it announced it would instead throw its weight behind a new campaign, Just Stop Oil, targeting Britain’s oil infrastructure.
A spokesperson for the group said: “Insulate Britain supporters have received charges from the Met, Herts and Kent police. They along with the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service], will be seen by history as betraying this country, for criminalising those who wanted to protect all people living here in the UK and to start the process of decarbonisation to protect the nations of the global south.
“The cost of living catastrophe is causing misery for millions of people in this country. Our proposal is a massive part of the solution.
“Insulating Britain is also a huge part of the process of giving the UK energy security, which is obviously an important subject as we see war raging in Europe funded by fossil fuels. Oil and gas funds war and causes insecurity globally. The government must halt all future fossil fuel licences immediately to give humanity a chance of survival. In order to stop fossil fuels we need to Insulate Britain.”