Iain Whyte, chairman of Lothian and Borders Police Board, said a mechanism should be available to courts to claw back not only cash for vandalism caused but also costs incurred.
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It has emerged that the taxpayer’s bill for covering the action against the Royal Bank of Scotland in Edinburgh could top six figures.
Mr Whyte made the call as it emerged that 12 people were arrested after a day of disruption in the capital. It centred on RBS’s support of businesses that are involved in projects protesters claim are immoral.
In one incident, activists brought traffic to a halt after they created an “oil slick” on two main routes into the city. The action was condemned for potentially putting the lives of the public at risk.
Lothian and Borders Police would not reveal how many officers have been involved since the protests began but confirmed some had been drafted in from Strathclyde, Central and Tayside forces. A senior source close to the operation said the cost was expected to be as much as £100,000.
Mr Whyte said he accepted recouping policing costs could create a legal minefield but added: “The board is obviously concerned about such costs at a time when budgets are restricted. If there is any way we can get the money back from protesters, it should be done.”
He added: “We welcome anyone to Edinburgh who is going to protest properly.”
One lawyer, however, said such a move would be a very dangerous precedent.
John Scott said: “I know there is austerity forced upon every body that is funded by government and they have to look at costs, but not for peaceful protest. Even if peaceful protest results in people being prosecuted, that is a price we have to pay.”
On day four of the protests, police said they had been surprised by the escalation of aggression from protesters since they set up camp at the RBS campus on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Officers released images of missiles that had been thrown by some protesters during clashes at the Gogarburn site.
Superintendent Lesley Clark said: “The mood changed over the weekend after the direct attempt at the (RBS) building.
“Officers were surprised by the level of aggression.”
She said that a number of weapons had been recovered, including mallets.
She added: “The oil substance on the road endangered people who had nothing to do with this – the public. That was very reckless and dangerous to the public.”
A spokesman for Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce said that outwith RBS there had been little disruption to business, while a spokesman for CBI Scotland condemned the oil spillages.
Police said a substance similar to diesel or vegetable oil was poured on to the Edinburgh city bypass at Bankhead and the westbound A8.
Margaret Smith, Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh West, accused protesters of recklessly endangering people’s lives.
Fellow LibDem Mike Crockart, the Edinburgh West MP, said: “The irresponsible behaviour seen on public roads could have caused serious injury or worse.”
A spokesman for the Climate Camp organisation said demonstrators had twice shut down the RBS branch on the capital’s Nicolson Street by chaining themselves to the building.
A piggy bank daubed with the RBS logo was used to dispense molasses to create a small “oil slick” outside the offices of Cairn Energy in the city centre. The spokesman said protesters had targeted the energy company because it used public money from RBS to start drilling for oil off the coast of Greenland.
Forth Energy was also targeted, with five activists claiming to have chained themselves to various parts of the firm’s Leith office while two scaled the roof of the building and unfurled banners. The activists said they oppose Forth because of its plans to build four biomass power stations in Scotland.
Seven protesters superglued themselves to the RBS executive car park near the Gyle Shopping Centre, while a branch of the Clydesdale Bank in Lothian Road was also vandalised.
Considerable damage was said to have been done to the Gogarburn building on Sunday.
Activist Daniel Balla said: “We feel compelled to take action against RBS as it is now 84% owned by the UK taxpayer.”
Forth Energy managing director Calum Wilson said: “Forth has consulted widely on the development of the biomass renewable energy plants and we welcome feedback and comment as part of this process.”