Environmental campaigners have caused rush-hour chaos in west London by clambering on to an oil tanker and forcing the closure of a major roundabout leading to the start of the M4 motorway.
“Road closures are currently in place at the Chiswick roundabout,” Hounslow police tweeted on Thursday morning. “Diversions are in place. Please avoid the area if possible.”
Four activists were glued to the top of an Eddie Stobart fuel tanker at the junction, which feeds traffic from west London on and off the M4. Off the side of the articulated lorry they had draped flags reading: “Just Stop Oil.”
Initially cars were able to pass the occupied tanker on lanes either side, with many drivers hurling abuse at the protesters. But as more police arrived they closed the roundabout.
The activists, who have been blockading fuel terminals since 1 April, causing petrol and diesel shortages in some areas, said they aimed to bring their protests to the public. “This is about making the invisible visible,” one shouted to the Guardian from atop the tanker. “It’s about showing people the stuff that is destroying people’s livelihoods and ecosystems.”
Hours earlier, dozens of police had raided the London Action Resource Centre, an anarchist meeting space in Whitechapel, east London. The Network for Police Monitoring tweeted that the raid, which one witness said had involved about 40 officers, was “attempting to crack down on @XRebellionUK [Extinction Rebellion] and @JustStop_Oil”.
The Metropolitan police confirmed the raid took place just before midnight on Thursday. “Police have arrested 11 people for conspiracy to commit a public nuisance at an address in Whitechapel at about 23:53hrs, Wednesday 13 April, as part of Just Stop Oil protests,” the force said.
“Five people have been released under investigation. Six people remain in custody. Investigations are ongoing.”
In a statement, Just Stop Oil accepted responsibility for stopping the tanker and said its activists were working “to stop the flow of oil in London”. The group has vowed to disrupt oil deliveries in London until the government agrees a moratorium on all new oil and gas projects.
The protest comes as reports of petrol and diesel shortages continued in areas targeted by Just Stop Oil. Over the past fortnight, the group has staged blockades and mass trespasses at 11 oil distribution facilities.
Petrol stations across the south of England were facing shortages on Thursday, according to reports. One local paper in Berkshire found that five of 11 it rang were either out of or low on fuel. Simon Williams, a fuel spokesperson for the RAC, told the Mirror: “Protests at fuel terminals over the last two weekends have led to some forecourts in the south-east running out of fuel due to planned deliveries being disrupted.
“While this is obviously an inconvenience at one of the busiest times of the year drivers should easily be able to find fuel. We expect the situation to resolve itself soon, barring any further protests.”
On Wednesday, it was reported that one major petrochemical company, the US-headquartered Valero, had obtained an injunction banning protests at its UK sites. Valero owns the Kingsbury oil terminal in Warwickshire that has been repeatedly targeted by Just Stop Oil.
The Labour party previously called for the government to impose “national injunctions” banning the group’s protests, leading to criticism after it was pointed out that that was not how injunctions work. In response, Just Stop Oil said Labour was “betraying its past, betraying the youth of this country, of every country and are complicit in climate genocide”.
Just Stop Oil’s activists had waited at the Chiswick roundabout for an oil tanker for an hour and a half before striking, letting several past that appeared to be carrying food-grade oils.
When the Eddie Stobart tanker arrived, one ran to the nearest traffic lights and pushed the button. They then stood in front of the cab, unfurled their banner and told the driver that others were climbing aboard his trailer. Before clambering aboard, an activist pulled a cable from the cab to the trailer to freeze the brakes.
More protests were expected on Thursday.