A 77-year-old Insulate Britain member who was sprayed with ink says the attacks on activists are “very frightening” – but won’t stop him protesting.
Speaking to The Big Issue, retired doctor Christian Murray-Leslie recalled how the ink “could have been something much worse”, though it did take days – and plenty of showers – to wash off his face.
Despite being arrested and facing charges for his involvement in last week’s protest, Murray-Leslie was part of a group of Insulate Britain activists who blocked a road in Birmingham on Tuesday morning.
“I’ve got more of a duty to do it,” he said. “I don’t expect young people to wreck their employment chances and their chances of getting a mortgage.”
“I’m having a break now,” he added. “I’m fairly exhausted because I’m not as young as I used to be.”
Murray-Leslie ink-splattered face made headlines last week, as rising tensions between Insulate Britain protesters and members of the public resulted in a passer-by spraying his group while they were blocking the A40 in west London.
“It happened fairly quickly so you didn’t have that much time to think. But I could see him coming towards us,” Murray-Leslie said.
“He was clearly going to do something. And I thought first of all that maybe he was going to try and attack us or drag us off the road but then he produced this bottle and tipped dye over us.
“There was so much on my face, you couldn’t put your hand anywhere near there without getting more into your eyes. In your eyebrows – it was just dripping everywhere really.”
Luckily the ink is now gone from his face. “It took a few days to get it off,” he said. “I had to have a lot of showers and a lot of soap”.
It wasn’t Murray-Leslie’s first run-in with the angry public. On another Insulate Britain protest, a man rode his bike into him. “He didn’t hurt me, he just knocked me over, but it’s still quite frightening when somebody rides at you at speed,” he told the Big Issue.
In Birmingham, he recalls a “threat of violence” in the air, but one that only resulted in abuse and some pedestrians nicking the group’s banner.
Arrests are commonplace for Insulate Britain’s activists, and last month a protester was pushed by a Range Rover after a confrontation with an angry driver.
A hostile reception comes with the territory, Murray-Leslie said: “There have been some very deliberate attacks on us – it is frightening. It’s a very frightening thing to do because you’re not going to make yourself popular doing this sort of thing.”
But, he adds, it’s a risk worth taking to force governments to act. “You’re there to make a point to try and influence government to do something which they originally promised to do and defaulted on,” he said. “Which we all feel is pretty important. So we are putting ourselves some risk, obviously, but we think the bigger picture is far more important.”
He adds: “A pledge to insulate was made in the 2019 Conservative manifesto and that’s been broken straight away. We’ve repeatedly asked to meet with them and they’ve steadfastly refused.”
As a youngster, Murray-Leslie kept bees and had a keen interest in nature. He’s now retired from his career as a doctor in Derby, and sees his involvement with Insulate Britain as “one of the most important things I’ve done in my life”.
“I don’t expect young people to wreck their employment chances and their chances of getting a mortgage, chances of travelling,” he said. “During our lifetime, we’ve contributed to the carbon emissions which threaten them. It’s morally incumbent on us to do it really.
After his arrest, he expects a criminal record and faces a range of charges. But he considers this necessary. “I’ve been on numerous marches, signed numerous petitions, written things in papers, lobbied my MP to the extent she no longer replies to my emails. So there’s not much else left to do but to be disruptive, peacefully, direct disruptive.
“This has worked in the past with the suffragettes with the Freedom Riders, the civil rights movement in America. It seems a logical thing to do. So, I’m doing it.”