Police in London deployed 176 officers costing over £80,000 in response to four pro-Ukraine protesters who temporarily occupied a mansion allegedly owned by a sanctioned Russian oligarch.
On the 14th of March, anarchist squatters occupied a west London mansion linked to Oleg Deripaska, an industrialist who made his fortune from energy and metals. In a statement, the protesters said, “Russian oligarchs: You occupy Ukraine, we occupy you.”
They intended for the house to “serve as a centre for refugee support, for Ukrainians and people of all nations and all ethnicities,” the statement said. The day before, senior UK government minister Michael Gove said the government wanted to “explore an option” of using sanctioned oligarchs’ mansions to house refugees from Ukraine.
But after the occupation began, London’s Metropolitan Police responded with a massive operation including nine police vans, squad cars, riot police, a helicopter as well as a ladder and a JCB cherry-picker – a large mobile platform – to reach protesters on the balcony.
A Freedom of Information request submitted by VICE World News can now reveal the extent and cost of that operation.
The data shows that 75 police officers, five sergeants and one inspector were deployed for the “immediate response”. Some of these were already on duty for an anticipated “Just Stop Oil”’ protest which didn’t materialise, and were redirected. This came at an “opportunity cost” of £35,692.99. “Opportunity cost” refers to the salaries cost to pay those involved for the time of the operation.
A further 77 constables along with two superintendents, three inspectors and 13 sergeants were deployed as part of the “service mobilisation” – which is likely to include the Territorial Support Group (TSG) riot cops, the cherry-picker and the specialist climbing units. This cost £45,419.11.
In total, 176 officers were deployed to the four-person protest and the grand total cost for the operation was £81,112.10.
A member of the London Makhnovists, the group which occupied the mansion, told VICE World News that the size of the operation was “ridiculous”.
He said the group was surprised about the size of the police presence on the day. "We started thinking that it was about the value of this property, not about our point."
Grassroots activists organising aid for Ukraine told VICE World News it is “unimaginable” what they could have done with that kind of money.
Operation Solidarity is an anti-authoritarian group which raises funds for progressive forces in Ukraine fighting the Russian invasion.
Sergey Movchan, a representative for Operation Solidarity said, “£81,000 is a substantial sum indeed, especially for the grassroot volunteer initiatives like Operation Solidarity. We could buy around 150 4+ class bulletproof vests, a few hundred helmets, or more than a thousand tourniquets for that kind of money. All of that could save lives.
“In Ukraine, friends and family often have to chip in to supply a fighter with everything needed. In order to buy the equipment, they have to look for it all over the military stores in Europe and beyond. And in terms of food and other essentials that could be purchased for this money and delivered to the parts of Ukraine that just got liberated from the Russian occupation – it’s unimaginable how much could be done having this money. If we had £81,000, we could probably provide food for a month to a middle-sized village.”
Activists also questioned whether the police would deploy the same resources to poorer neighbourhoods.
Kevin Blowe, from the Network for Police Monitoring said: “The cost of policing what must very quickly have been obvious was a protest against Russian oligarch support for Putin's war in Ukraine results from the decision to deploy quite so many officers. This includes specialist units and a police helicopter, as well as covering for officers removed from duties elsewhere.
“Would 176 officers have been sent for four people protesting on the balcony of an empty building if it wasn't owned by a billionaire who has made donations to the Conservative Party?
“It seems unlikely that such a show of strength would have happened in working-class communities in London, even for residential squatting.
“The police's decision to eventually charge the four with burglary means they knew the protesters had no intention of living in the building. I think I can guess what most Londoners – the ones who aren't fabulously rich – would say if asked whether even one officer is likely to show up for burglary in their neighbourhood, never mind the numbers sent to Belgrave Square".
A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police said that officers initially responded to reports of people breaking into a residential property in the early hours of the morning, without knowing who it was owned by.
"The response was as Londoners would expect when a possible burglary is in progress," they said.
“A significant number of officers were required due to the size of the property, the need to establish cordons in the vicinity to prevent access by others who may have tried to join the protest and the need to deploy specialist officers trained in working at height. There was also a need to bring in lifting equipment at an additional cost.
“The figure for the number of officers involved… reflects the total resources used over the full duration of the incident, not the number deployed at any one time.
“The incident was ultimately resolved safely, in a timely manner and without excessive disruption to the wider public.”
Deripaska was sanctioned by the British government for his ties to the Kremlin and Russian President Vladimir Putin following the invasion of Ukraine. In 2008 Deripaska hosted George Osborne, who was then Shadow Chancellor, and senior Labour Party figure Peter Mandelson, on his yacht in Corfu.
A spokesman for Deripaska has claimed that the property in London belongs to family members and not him. A 2007 High Court judgment said that the property is “beneficially owned” by the energy and metals tycoon.
Pictures that emerged from inside the sprawling townhouse painted a picture of the oligarch’s opulent lifestyle, with an £80,00 grand piano, expensive artworks and a £50,000 dining table.