Controversial climate activists who deflate tyres on SUVs say they will target thousands more drivers in the coming months – and they will not stop even if their actions result in road accidents.
The protesters, who call themselves the Tyre Extinguishers, told Sky News they want to "strike fear" into owners of the "gas guzzling" cars.
They claim they have already let down the tyres of about 3,000 vehicles across the UK since March.
Police have warned the group’s actions "will absolutely not be tolerated" and have sought to catch those involved.
But a spokesperson for the Tyre Extinguishers said they believed they were unlikely to be arrested and they will not be deterred despite facing death threats.
So far, the activists say they have struck in London, Brighton, Manchester, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Sheffield and Cambridge – and their campaign is "escalating fast".
They have warned more cities are set to be targeted as they aim to deflate tyres on more than 10,000 vehicles by the end of the year.
The group’s spokesperson, who gave their name as Marion Walker, told Sky News: "We want to strike fear into anyone who drives a huge polluting SUV in a UK city.
"There comes a point where asking politely and protesting has stopped working, and it’s time for action, to sabotage the machines that are killing us.
"Some of our number are people who live near busy polluted roads, slowly choked by gas guzzlers.
"Others are cyclists who have been nearly killed by an SUV too many times.
"We are all united by the science that SUVs are a climate disaster."
Carly Bateman discovered a tyre had been deflated on her Skoda Yeti outside her home in Didsbury, Manchester – with a letter from the Tyre Extinguishers left on the vehicle.
The 28-year-old, who runs an entertainment business which involves transporting large costumes and equipment, branded the activists "hugely irresponsible".
She told Sky News: "I understand the message behind it and I understand they’re trying to do something good – but I also think it’s being done really irresponsibly.
"Going around deflating people’s tyres when you have no idea who those people are… worst-case scenario someone could have a really bad health condition or be on their way to meet someone who is dying… and because they’ve deflated their tyres they can’t get there.
"It’s hugely irresponsible. It’s tampering with vehicles."
Ms Bateman, who is also a fitness instructor, was planning to drive to a class on the morning her car tyre was deflated.
She paid for an Uber ride instead and her father drove his car to her vehicle’s location to pump up her tyre.
"At the end of the day, they’ve not really done much good there because I’ve had to involve two vehicles instead of one," she added.
"If you want to stop 4×4 driving, contact the manufacturers and do something there.
"Don’t target individuals who are just trying to do their jobs."
Another woman who said her electric car was targeted by the Tyre Extinguishers wrote on Twitter: "You let down my tyres and I didn’t notice until I started driving with my three children in my car."
Why are SUVs being targeted?
The Tyre Extinguishers say sport utility vehicles – or SUVs – are "a climate disaster", "dangerous" and "unnecessary".
The vehicles feature elements of standard cars but are larger and have off-road capabilities.
They consume around 20% more energy than a medium-sized car because of their size, and over the last decade have outstripped aviation to become the second-largest cause of rising CO2 levels.
But despite warnings over climate change, SUV sales grew 10% between 2020 and 2021 and made up about 45% of all new vehicles sold globally last year, according to the International Energy Agency.
The Tyre Extinguishers, who launched in March, said they were "nearing 3,000 SUVs deflated in the UK" – with 250 vehicles targeted in Brighton and Hove on Monday night alone.
"It’d be great to get into five figures by the end of the year, and we think that’s possible," their spokesperson told Sky News.
"Nobody has been caught yet, and we don’t expect anyone to be either.
"We can strike anywhere, at any time.
"Unless someone is going to drink gallons of coffee and stay up all night laying in wait to make sure their precious toy isn’t deflated, or unless the police are going to post a bobby 24/7 in front of every SUV in the country, we are very unlikely to be caught."
The group tells activists to avoid targeting SUVs "clearly used" by people with disabilities or by tradespeople.
Asked if the Tyre Extinguishers would stop their campaign if it resulted in a road accident, their spokesperson said they left leaflets on affected vehicles "as a warning", and claimed most SUVs are fitted with sensors that alert drivers to a flat tyre when they put the key in the ignition.
The spokesperson added: "The only reason we would ever stop our campaign is if we had succeeded in making it impossible to own an urban SUV in the UK, or if the government imposed bans on SUVs in urban areas, pollution levies to tax SUVs out of existence, and massive investment in free, comprehensive public transport.
"But until politicians make this a reality, Tyre Extinguishers’ action will continue."
‘Death threats’ sent to activists
The Tyre Extinguishers’ spokesperson, who would only communicate via email for "security reasons", told Sky News the activists had received death threats online, which were "overwhelmingly from men".
"It shows the fragile male egos who own these cars and how attached they are to their cars for their sense of identity," the spokesperson added.
"We are not deterred by such threats."
The Tyre Extinguishers’ also claimed disabled people had told the group they were "insulted by the idea they are being used as an excuse for SUV use".
"Our sympathies lie with the millions of people dying from climate change-related causes," the spokesperson said.
"The selfish desire for luxury of your average urban SUV user should not trump the right to life for those most affected by climate change."
Police launch ‘Operation Extinguisher’
Sussex Police launched "Operation Extinguisher" in March after reports of vehicles having their tyres deflated and released CCTV footage showing two people it wanted to trace.
Inspector Nicky Stuart said at the time that "this type of behaviour will absolutely not be tolerated" and "any such occurrences are unacceptable".
A move to crack down on guerrilla-style climate protests was set out in the Queen’s Speech on Tuesday.
The Public Order Bill, which is being introduced to parliament today, will outlaw protesters "locking on" to public transport infrastructure or gluing themselves to roads.
It follows the recent protests of Insulate Britain which infuriated motorists by blocking traffic, with some activists gluing themselves to the road surface.
© Sky News 2022