ANARCHISTS are now the biggest drain on police resources — diverting millions of pounds from fighting crime.
Thousands of officers are regularly taken off the beat to deal with protesters creating chaos on the streets.
Demonstrators clashed with cops in London yesterday, while Bristol, Newcastle, Birmingham and Liverpool also saw protests.
MPs say the increasing use of guerrilla tactics at demonstrations takes up to £40million a year from police budgets.
Instead of tackling violent crime and terrorism, cops must deal with eco-warriors camped on main roads, chained to buildings or superglued to trains.
Printing presses have also been disrupted while blockades have held up patients getting to hospital.
Home Secretary Priti Patel has drawn up new public order laws — in a Police and Crime Bill — to make it harder to mount blockades which hit businesses, transport networks or other key sites.
Former police minister Sir Mike Penning said: “This is not about stopping peaceful demonstrations.
"We’ve always cherished our right to protest. But nobody has the right to abuse police officers and bring the country to its knees.
“Is there anyone out there who really thinks it’s OK for protesters to block ambulances and printing presses?”
It follows months of chaos from Extinction Rebellion eco-warriors, with 18 demos in just one year.
Taxpayers were hit with a £16million bill to police just a week of XR action when activists camped out in Oxford Circus, Marble Arch, Waterloo Bridge and Parliament Square.
It disrupted thousands of people heading to work while a cancer patient was blocked from travelling to hospital for treatment.
Two protesters superglued themselves to a Docklands Light Railway train at Canary Wharf, causing heavy delays, while 13 bonded themselves to the London Stock Exchange entrance.
The bill included £6million to pay cops drafted in from 38 other forces across England and Wales.
A total of £3.5million was paid for 243,125 hours’ overtime — the same as a year’s normal hours put in by 120 officers without holiday.
Nearly 8,000 cops were deployed during a two-week XR demo in October 2019, with 21,000 asked to work 12-hour shifts.
It brought the total bill for policing the climate change group to £37million — more than twice the annual budget for the £15million Violent Crime Taskforce.
Ministers decided to act last year after XR launched an attack on the free press by blockading printworks in Hertfordshire, Merseyside and North Lanarkshire.
New laws going through Parliament will beef up police powers to crack down on static protests in the way they can currently impose restrictions on marches.
It will also mean tougher sentences for sex offenders and end automatic early release from jail.
But the move is being opposed by Labour, SNP and the Lib Dems who claim it would curtail the right to peaceful protest.
The Bill aims to give cops power to impose noise limits and start and end times on gatherings, which critics say would “make a dictator blush”.
A senior government source said: “We’re backing the police and resourcing them to keep us safe. Yet those behind some of these protests are calling for police to be defunded, while putting lives at risk.”
Police chiefs are increasingly alarmed at the disruptive tactics used by anarchists who organise demos — and infiltrate others.
Sir Mike said: “The protesters this is aimed at are not law-abiding citizens.
They are people who spit in the faces of officers, throw fireworks at police horses, glue themselves to trains taking people to work and create chaos in town centres.”
Each time a huge demo is held in the capital, officers from other forces have to be drafted in.
Sir Mike, MP for Hemel Hempstead, Herts, added: “I want more officers on the streets in my constituency — not being dragged off to other parts of the country to police disorderly demos.
"These are now the biggest drain on hard-pressed policing budgets everywhere.”
Tory chairman Amanda Milling added: “This is an eye-watering amount of taxpayers’ money that should have been spent on putting more police officers on our streets. We support the right to peaceful protest but recently we’ve witnessed violent scenes.”
Senior cops have been in talks with ministers about potential changes to the Public Order Act since the XR demo in April.
The proposed new laws will close a loophole exploited by the most disruptive protesters. XR leaders have ignored written orders from cops to evade conviction for breach of conditions.
Under the changes, an offence will be committed if a person “knows or ought to have known” a condition was imposed.
There will be a new statutory offence of “public nuisance” with clear rules on what is forbidden.
Ministers insist the laws will not remove the right to protest.
A Home Office source said: “Freedom of expression is a cornerstone of British democracy.
“The majority of protests in England and Wales are lawful and will be unaffected. The measures balance the rights of protesters with the rights of others to go about their business unhindered.
"They will achieve this by better enabling police to manage highly disruptive protests.”
Other important changes proposed include tougher sentences for the worst crimes and an end to automatic early release for serious and violent sex offenders.
Another is to bind all public services to confront violence. It will for the first time impose a public duty to act on bodies such as health authorities, councils and the probation service.
An insider said: “We can’t leave it to the cops alone any longer.”
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