Extinction Rebellion has expressed its regret over ugly scenes in east London during Thursday’s rush hour, after an activist was dragged to the ground from the top of a Tube train.
The group acknowledged the action at Canning Town Tube station was “divisive” and said several of its members had acted “autonomously”.
But it maintained that the actions were planned within their core principles of compassion and non-violence.
Furious commuters at the crowded station lobbed drinks at one protester before he was yanked from the train to the platform floor, much to the apparent delight of the cheering crowd.
Video shared on social media showed protesters holding a sign which read “Business as usual = death”, while the activist pulled to the floor appeared to kick out at the commuter who pulled him down.
In a statement, Extinction Rebellion said: “It is regretful that there was violence at today’s action at Canning Town tube station. We would like to express our sadness that events escalated this way.
“We are aware that one of our activists responded in self-defence in a moment of panic when confronted by a threatening situation.
“He acknowledges his accountability for this action and we offer gratitude for members of the public who helped to protect him.”
The group apologised for the disruption caused to commuters, but said the incident should not create “unnecessary division”.
“Rather than let this incident divide, at this moment of heightened attention, we think it is right to reach out to you, to invite you to have a conversation about what happened today,” the statement added.
It wasn’t good what happened this morning, but the people who did that are passionate people and they decided that that was what they wanted to do. The policy of XR is, you have to disruptSteve McDonald, XR activist
“In light of today’s events, Extinction Rebellion will be looking at ways to bring people together rather than create an unnecessary division.
“The people involved today did not take this action lightly. They were a grandfather, an ex-Buddhist teacher, a vicar and a former GP, among others, who acted out of rational fear for the future as this crisis deepens.”
British Transport Police said eight people had been arrested on suspicion of obstructing the railway on Thursday morning, and also urged commuters not to “take matters into their own hands”.
A member of Transport for London (TfL) staff appeared to intervene to stop people from attacking the male XR activist further by holding them back.
One man yelled: “I need to get to work, I have to feed my kids,” while others shouted insults at activists.
British Transport Police also said they were investigating the response from commuters, and acting chief constable Sean O’Callaghan added: “It is important that commuters and other rail users allow the police, who are specially trained, to manage these incidents.”
XR spokesman Howard Rees, 39, told the PA news agency: “Was it the right thing to do? I am not sure.
“I think we will have to have a period of reflection. It is too early to say.
“I think we need to take stock of it.”
Mr Rees, a PR worker from London, said the intention was not to “inconvenience hard-working people”, and said he did not think the apparently unsympathetic mood on the platform was indicative of a decrease in public support, despite many posts on the XR London Facebook page expressing concern that the stunt was counterproductive and should not have gone ahead.
He said: “It is not our intention to target individuals or inconvenience hard-working people.
“We’re in a life or death situation right now.
“The only thing the Government is interested in is money, so that’s why the transport system was targeted.
“If you’re causing disruption but people are impacted, it is nothing compared with the disruption that is coming down the line, let me tell you.”
He said the protests were carried out by activists “affiliated” to Extinction Rebellion, meaning anyone with the same ideals could act under the XR banner.
The action is the latest in a series from the anti-climate change group, who have been banned from protesting in London.
A legal bid to overturn the order was expected to reach the High Court on Thursday.
Activists also arrived at Gatwick airport at about 11am on Thursday, but made no attempt to disrupt passengers.
The group of about 20 rebels, including a caped flautist, played music and offered flyers to passengers passing through the international arrivals hall at Gatwick’s South terminal.
Steve McDonald, 63, who has been a climate activist for more than 20 years, said he was saddened by the incident at Canning Town but said those involved had been well intentioned.
Speaking to PA, he said: “It wasn’t good what happened this morning, but the people who did that are passionate people and they decided that that was what they wanted to do. The policy of XR is, you have to disrupt.
“Obviously it went wrong, that was never our intention, but I don’t condemn those people.”
Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association said: “I am extremely saddened that Extinction Rebellion protesters have today targeted London’s public transport network.
“I have seen pictures of protesters on the roofs of Tube trains. This is extremely dangerous not just for them but also for the travelling public.
“If we are going to effectively decarbonise we need more people using our public transport network and more investment in the green alternatives this provides.”