BBC slammed for asking eco-vigilantes to let them film tyre deflating

BBC is accused of ‘supporting unlawful radical activism’ by asking eco-vigilantes to let them film tyre deflating while ‘blurring faces and disguising their voices’

  • EXCLUSIVE: BBC found itself in hot water over Justin Rowlatt’s talks with activist
  • The journalist allegedly told eco-thugs he would blur faces and disguise voices
  • The move was branded ‘outrageous’ and raised ‘ethical questions’ of Corporation
  • Tyre Extinguishers caused outrage by deflating tyres on SUVs across the country

The BBC has been accused of using the licence fee to ‘protect environmental extremists’ after its climate editor tried to offer anonymity to a gang deflating tyres.

The Corporation found itself in hot water when Justin Rowlatt asked members of Tyre Extinguishers to star in a clip in which he would hide their identities.

The ‘trusted’ journalist allegedly told the eco-thugs he would blur their faces and disguise their voices in the video for the Beeb.

The move was branded ‘outrageous’ and raised ‘ethical questions’ over supporting ‘unlawful radical activism that disrupts people’s lives during this cost of living crisis’.

The gang has sparked outrage by deflating tyres on SUVs across the country as they tried to disguise their vandalism as protests.

As of last week Tyre Extinguishers bragged it had deflated the wheels of nearly 2,000 cars in just a month despite public fury.

Meanwhile questions were raised over 55-year-old Rowlatt’s suitability as climate editor after it emerged his sister was an active member of Insulate Britain and XR.

Cordelia was among the radicals blocking major roads last year, causing chaos for commuters across England.

The Corporation found itself in hot water when Justin Rowlatt (pictured) asked members of Tyre Extinguishers to star in a clip in which he would hide their identities

The ‘trusted’ journalist allegedly told the eco-thugs he would blur their faces and disguise their voices in the video for the Beeb

The eco mob calling themselves Tyre Extinguishers claim they targeted almost 2,000 SUVs across the UK in the last month

Meanwhile questions were raised over 55-year-old Rowlatt’s suitability as climate editor after it emerged his sister (pictured) was an active member of Insulate Britain and XR

Is deflating someone’s tyre a crime in the UK? 

Legal experts say that although prosecution is unlikely, the activists could actually be committing a criminal offence.

Laura Baumanis, a criminal defence solicitor at legal defence firm Olliers, told MailOnline: ‘Whilst it is extremely rare for someone to be prosecuted for letting the air out of a tyre, technically, it could be classed as criminal damage.

‘For this offence to be satisfied, any damage caused does not have to be permanent, but is made out by virtue of the fact that steps need to be taken, ordinarily at expense to the owner, for the item to be in a working condition again.’

Meanwhile, Matthew Nash, tutor at The University of Law, said if the driver failed to notice the flat tyre and drove away, more serious charges could be brought it they crashed.

He said: ‘Letting out air from someone’s tyres is clear criminal damage.

‘Although technically the tyre is not ‘damaged’, if you do something to someone else’s property and they need to do something to restore it, that is Criminal Damage within the meaning of the Criminal Damage Act.

‘It is possible that if they let the air out of someone’s types so as to cause an accident, there could be more serious charges depending on the resulting damage or injury.

‘It is also possible that there could be other offences if this were done to many cars at the same time.’

Three police forces have confirmed they are investigating multiple reports of criminal damage in Brighton, Liverpool and Cambridge. 

A leading member of Tyre Extinguishers asked members of a Telegram group, seen by MailOnline, if they would help the BBC for the feature on them.

They wrote on March 31: ‘Hi everyone – the BBC’s Environment Editor, Justin Rowlatt, is looking for a Tyre Extinguisher crew to film deflating tyres and to film anonymously about the action.

‘A trusted journalist and he is happy to blur faces, disguise voices etc if needed. Message me if you are up for this.

‘He’d love to do a feature on us and the more people learn about us, the more people will join in. Message me!’

But the offer appeared to have little clout, with no one replying for two days before one man said: ‘I’d be a bit wary.

‘Yes he has clout as senior BBC env. journalist – but he’s mainstream at best & at worst…

‘[He] did a sh** piece on LTNs last year (a BBC apology was issued after pressure from a pro-AT MP) over the misinformation and imbalance).’

It is not clear if Rowlatt ever went out with the group to record and BBC News refused to divulge this information.

The group, called March 7th – Tyre Extinguishers Launch!, has been used to plot their carnage over the past month.

It has 180 members, with some in the chat calling themselves Revolting Hippie, Mighty Rebel and Making Mischief.

One man in the chat even asked if the name should be changed to be ‘something less obvious’ in case a group member were to be arrested.

He wrote: ‘Wondering if the name of chat and picture could be changed to something less obvious?

‘If someone were to be arrested and the cops get access to their telegram then we’re all a little screwed.’

The admin replied: ‘Security is super important I agree! Don’t worry, this group is not searchable, it can only be found via invite link.

‘We will also be regularly deleting the chat hisrory so there will be nothing substantial for anyone to find (especially after March 7th).

‘Being a member of a Telegram group in of itself is not prosecutable. The advantage of Telegram is that our phone numbers are not visible to each other, so there is a layer of protection there too.

‘Even if the cops got one of our phones, they would have little way of identifying anyone else in the group.

‘Can I suggest anyone that has their real name in their Telegram username to change it? That’ll provide an additional layer of security also.’

Pictured: William Lowe’s tyre, muddy from its use on a farm, was reduced from 50psi to 7psi

Iren Brown and her husband Nick woke up to find all four tyres on the family’s part-electric Toyota Rav 4 had been deflated by activists.

Mr Brown, 64, from Brighton, had to cancel a hospital appointment.

Mrs Brown, 43, said: ‘The Toyota is a hybrid electric car which we bought because we were being mindful of the environmental impact our previous diesel car was having. 

‘But these activists have not taken that into consideration. 

‘I’m so angry because everyone is behind their cause but their tactics are indiscriminate and scattershot.’

The mother-of-two, a kitchen designer, added: ‘Nick is quite a serious diabetic and we may have need to access a vehicle in an emergency. 

‘Their actions could have been dangerous.’

An earlier post read: ‘SUVs and 4x4s are a disaster for our health, our public safety and our climate – and their sales are surging!

‘If SUVs were a country, they would be the seventh-largest emitter in the world. Bigger and bigger cars are dominating our towns and cities, and all so a privileged few can flaunt their wealth.

‘Because governments and politicians have failed to protect us from this danger, we must protect ourselves.

‘A new, decentralised campaign is launching in March to make it impossible to own an SUV in the UK’s urban areas.’

Another added: ‘This is a group for the Tyre Extinguishers launch on the night of Monday March 7th.

‘Thank you for being part of it – together we can make it impossible to use an SUV on the world’s roads.

‘Add people who are up for taking part. Only add people YOU KNOW AND TRUST to take the action for now.

‘DO NOT distribute the website or publicly reference the Tyre Extinguishers until after the launch action

‘We will launch on the evening of Monday 7th March, and a general press release will be sent out and we will publicly encourage others to join us and point to the website.

‘The website with all the instructions about how to take the action is here, but keep it under wraps for now:

‘For people’s safety, keep names and identities confidential and only organise with people you already know!’

It added: ‘This is a leaderless movement so you can set up your own local groups, but don’t take action until March 7th!’ 

As a multiple sclerosis sufferer, Kate Basker never quite knows when or how the condition will affect her. ‘It’s shocking to find out that someone has decided we’re fair game just because of the car we drive, not knowing anything about us,’ the 33-year-old from Bristol said

Rob Derkin spotted that three tyres on his Volkswagen T-Roc were flat when he left to take his daughter to college. After unscrewing the valve caps, he discovered dried legumes pushing down the pin to let air out

Campaign groups were livid Rowlatt had allegedly been allowed to approach the group and offer to film them anonymously.

Defund the BBC told MailOnline: ‘It is outrageous that the BBC is taking money from vulnerable Britons and using it to support unlawful radical activism that disrupts people’s lives during this cost of living crisis.

‘In order to return any accountability to the corporation, the government must step in to put an end to its guaranteed funding by scrapping the licence fee once and for all.

‘The British people should not be forced, by threat of imprisonment, to pay for the BBC’s woke agenda.’

Head of Policy Exchange’s Security and Terrorism Unit Dr Paul Stott added: ‘It would be an extremely odd state of affairs if the licence fee was being used – tacitly or otherwise – to protect a group of environment extremists, whose actions cause disruption and distress to the law-abiding majority. The BBC has an ethical question to answer here.’

Tyre Extinguishers said last week its supporters had taken action in cities across Britain in an attempt to ‘make it impossible’ to own the vehicles in urban areas.

Activists are urged to avoid SUVs ‘clearly used’ by people with disabilities or by tradesman.

The group, which first took action on March 7, said in a statement: ‘So far, the Tyre Extinguishers have disarmed nearly 2,000 SUVs in the UK, in Brighton, London, Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield, Bristol and Edinburgh, in repeated actions.

‘Plans are being made to launch the Tyre Extinguishers leaflet in four other languages as interest grows internationally.’

The group papered targeted vehicles with this lengthy leaflet (pictured), lecturing drivers on why they should get rid of their ‘gas guzzling SUVs’ and use public transport instead

Last week, Sussex Police issued CCTV footage showing two people it wants to trace in connection with tyres being deflated in Brighton.

Marion Walker of Tyre Extinguishers said: ‘Unless a bobby is posted beside every SUV in the country 24 hours a day, we don’t expect anyone to be apprehended.

‘Better to break the law than allow these killer vehicles to continue to be used on our streets.’ Some of the SUVs that had their tyres let down were electric and hybrids. 

One electric 4×4 owner who was targeted last month said he went to great lengths to research the environmental impact of his vehicle before purchasing it. 

William Lowe, from Cambridge, told MailOnline: ‘I was just leaving the house … ironically to attend a sustainability and waste reduction meeting when I noticed the tyres on my electric 4×4 had been deflated and I found their leaflet on my windscreen.

‘I was lucky enough that I had the means to reinflate the tyre at my house so it was only a mild inconvenience which set me back on my day but nevertheless it was very frustrating.

‘We use it for its intended purpose as we have to visit a farm at least twice a week which would otherwise be impossible for a normal car.

‘This is by far the car with the lowest carbon footprint. We were very conscious about that.

‘We’ve been responsible and went to great lengths to research the environmental impact – it’s not like I just purchased the cheapest option.

‘It definitely seemed like the group are using a blunt tool to tackle what is actually a complex problem.’

Mr Lowe, who runs a family-owned gin distillery and owns a Land Rover e-SUV, said he agrees that environmental challenges need tackling but that this is the wrong way to go about it. He added: ‘I’m obviously sympathetic to their cause.

‘The environmental situation is dire and needs answering but it’s a complex and nuanced situation that minor acts of vandalism show no signs of improving.

‘This is an important cause but they seem aligned with Extinction Rebellion who are uniquely placed to rally people against the cause they’re trying to unite people behind.’ 

Last year, one of the UK’s most popular selling cars was a Kia Sportage SUV, according to Auto Express. 

SUVs emit 25 per cent more carbon dioxide on average than a medium-sized car, and have jumped in popularity in the UK.

It leapt from nearly seven per cent of private cars sold in the UK in 2009 to more than 21 per cent in 2018, according to the UK energy Research Centre.

Globally, the number of SUVs has increased from less than 50 million in 2010 to around 320 million last year — equivalent to the total car fleet of Europe.

Because of their size, on average, SUVs consume around a quarter more energy than medium-sized cars.

A 2019 study by the International Energy Agency found that they rank among the top contributors to energy-related carbon dioxide emissions growth over the past decade — cancelling out the reductions from people switching to electric cars. Because of their size, they are also said to be more dangerous when involved in an accident.

BBC News refused to be drawn on Rowlatt’s messages with Tyre Extinguishers, with a spokesman saying: ‘All BBC journalism must comply with the BBC’s editorial guidelines.’

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