Mark Harper explains why Sadiq Khan is wrong on ULEZ
It used to be just foxes prowling the streets of Greater London when the sun goes down, but things are different now.
In the depths of darkness, masked individuals and sometimes groups can be found creeping along shadowy streets, hiding from the glow of streetlights that might give their presence away.
They carry garden shears, bats, long poles with paintbrushes on the end, angle grinders and reciprocating saws.
They’re not out to steal from houses or rob passers-by – the Bladerunners, as they are known, search for the shiny new ULEZ cameras perched atop traffic lights and destroy them, one by one, across the entire city.
Express.co.uk has spoken in detail to the founder of the group, Ben MacMillan*, who revealed everything from how they operate to their surprising demographic, the way they’ve been championed by the public, the special code words they use to communicate, the “allies” and “informers” they claim to have in councils and the police, as well as their anger at Mayor of London Sadiq Khan.
READ MORE Anti-ULEZ vigilantes strike again as locals find Khan’s road cameras destroyed
ULEZ was expanded to cover all of Greater London at the end of August 2023
The first meeting
It was difficult for MacMillian to gauge how far people were willing to go at first, so he and a few others took a ULEZ camera down with a pole and posted an image of it to Facebook.
“From that, we were able to see who supported what we had done, and then privately message those we believed would help,” he said.
Further recruits were signed up at anti-ULEZ protests, and a meeting was then set up in a park late one evening.
“We took a van and opened it, and inside was a ULEZ camera,” MacMillian said. “We showed these new people how we had destroyed it and how they could do it too.”
That was early 2023, just months after Mr Khan announced that the ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) would extend to cover all of Greater London in August 2023, with fines of £12.50 a day for non-compliant vehicles.
MacMillan, who says he has torn down more than 40 ULEZ cameras, was surprised to see the sorts of people who turned up to that first meeting were not the “hooded criminals” he’d imagined but “ordinary working people”.
The group’s numbers exploded from then on and soon it became a network of loosely connected individuals who exchanged coded messages initially based on the cooking and baking of cakes. “We’re going to bake cakes tonight” actually meant that “we’re going out to destroy cameras”.
Bladerunners would sever the ULEZ cameras from the post before new security panels were installed
Unlike many vigilante groups whose members are often mainly young freedom fighters and justice seekers wanting to right wrongs, the demographic of the Bladerunners is surprising.
“It’s mostly people in their 40s and pensioners,” MacMillan said. “I get old ladies asking me how to destroy the cameras. They’re going around London with garden shears.
“These are normal people who work normal jobs, have businesses, families.”
Most of the Bladerunners have avoided being caught by the police, and only a handful of charges have been brought so far. As of September 1, 2023, a staggering 450 of the 1,762 cameras in the new ULEZ zone had been either damaged or were missing — meaning one in every four cameras has been vandalised.
MacMillan added: “Individuals and groups go out and do it. If it’s a large group, they’ll meet a few days beforehand and go over everything.
“If it’s small groups and they’re doing stuff on their own, it’s just a case of scouting out places to go, scouting out escape routes, what to do if you attract unwanted attention, where you’ll run to.”
They reccy certain areas, identify any CCTV cameras and their positions, and gather suitable clothing to conceal their identities, reaching their destination on foot or pushbike in order to get away quickly.
One supposed Bladerunner’s post before heading out to ‘work’ at night
‘We’ve got allies and informers everywhere’
Struggling to grapple with the destructive contagion, TfL has recently upped security measures on ULEZ cameras by installing a metal plate over the wires and bolts.
Before, MacMillan explained, those wires and bolts were exposed and easily snipped or removed by tools bought on eBay.
That method is no longer possible so the Bladerunners have resorted to using angle grinders and reciprocating saws to completely destroy the pole the ULEZ camera sits atop – including the adjoining traffic lights.
“We don’t want to damage the traffic lights,” MacMillan said. “But it’s what we’ve been driven to. You’re putting up all this armoured stuff? Fine. We’ll just take the whole pole down.”
He claimed the Bladerunners have been aided in their efforts by “allies and informers” within the likes of Wandsworth Council, the police and even individuals who helped install some of the cameras on behalf of TfL.
In one instance, MacMillian alleged, an “informer” inside Labour-run Wandsworth Council gave the group a tip-off after Mr Khan had complained about a caravan they parked outside his house covered in anti-ULEZ messages, including calling him London’s “dictator”.
He claimed: “He had personally gone to see the head of Wandsworth Council to say, ‘I want that caravan removed’. We found out they were going to imminently remove it, so we removed it for them.”
When approached for comment, a Wandsworth Council spokesperson said of the alleged tip off: “We’ve seen absolutely no evidence of this but would view any such behaviour very seriously.”
However, MacMillan continued: “This is the thing Sadiq Khan doesn’t realise: these people don’t like him, and he thinks he’s going to stop us, but we’ve had fitters tell us, ‘By the way, we’re changing the bolts on these cameras’, that’s how we knew they were changing the size of the bolts.
“Sadiq Khan thinks he’s got all these allies, they’re not his allies at all. They’re stabbing him in the back, and rightly so.”
The Bladerunners have changed their tactics as TfL have come up with ways to disrupt their vandalism
Sadiq Khan has defended the ULEZ expansion and accused the Conservatives of starting a ‘bogus’ war
Mr Khan’s losing battle?
Mr Khan’s new ULEZ scheme creates the largest clean air zone in the world. It covers all of Greater London and is designed to protect some four million people from bad air quality.
The London Mayor says 214 “life years” will be saved in 2023 alone as a result of the new zone — the additional number of years that Londoners as a whole can expect to live.
He has vehemently defended his plan, which has been slammed by critics as a money-grabbing exercise, accusing the Conservatives of creating a “bogus war on the motorist” and insisting he is simply trying to help the environment and people’s health.
To circumvent the Bladerunners’ work, Mr Khan recently rolled out a fleet of camera vans to detect non-compliant cars travelling in the ULEZ.
The Bladerunners had other plans, however, and quickly began covering the vehicles with graffiti. Videos shared on social media instruct people on how to deflate tyres and what sorts of tools to use for specific types of cars and vans.
For MacMillan, the group will always find another way to evade the ULEZ charges as Mr Khan’s measures evolve in order to protect “working people”.
“We don’t plan to stop what we’re doing,” he said.
TfL told Express.co.uk that any vandalism on its network of cameras “is unacceptable and all incidents are reported to the police for investigation,” adding that: “Criminal damage to ULEZ cameras puts the perpetrators at risk of prosecution and life-changing injuries, while simultaneously risking the safety of the public.
“Camera vandalism will not stop the ULEZ operating London-wide and cleaning up the air for five million more Londoners. All vandalised cameras are replaced as soon as possible.”
On MacMillan’s claims that individuals installing some of the ULEZ cameras are helping the Bladerunners, it said: “We do not recognise these reports of any of our contractors working alongside those committing these criminal acts.”
Yunex, who TfL says installs ULEZ cameras, was approached for comment.
*Ben MacMillan’s real name has been changed at his request.