Middle-class eco-vandal, 62, admits to using lens to deflate 10 SUV’s tires a night

A small female figure emerges from the shadows of the fading light and crouches next to a parked car.

She quickly removes a backpack from her back, pulls out something from inside, and turns her attention to the bike in front of her. Less than a minute passes before she moves to the back of the vehicle, repeats the process and disappears.

It wasn’t until the next morning, when the owners of all the cars she had spotted tried to drive away, that they realized what had happened – each vehicle had a pair of completely flat tires.

Plans for the day will have to be postponed. People will be late for work, school – vital hospital appointments may even be missed.

Of course, the worst case scenario is that they don’t notice at all and drive off with the unsecured vehicle, putting their lives and those of other road users at risk.

So far, those behind the attacks have largely let their handiwork do the talking.

The eco-warriors, who call themselves the Tire Fire Extinguishers, target sports utility vehicles (SUVs). Their aim is to deter drivers from buying cars which they believe, due to their size and weight, are particularly harmful to the environment and dangerous to pedestrians.

And the early signs are that, as with Extinction Rebellion’s eco-fanatics, their direct action is driving people astray — away from, not toward, their green cause.

The Tire Fire Extinguishers are a group of anonymous eco-warriors who target sport utility vehicles (SUVs). But one activist, ‘Anna’, decided to speak out to challenge her chosen cause

What if the owner of the SUV is disabled? Or have three small children whose car seats won’t fit in the backseat of a standard-sized car? Or if it’s hybrid or electric?

How those whose daily lives have been disrupted by tire fire extinguishers would like to share with those responsible.

Well, step forward ‘Anna’, an activist who stepped out of the shadows this week to argue for her chosen cause.

“When I started, I was really shocked at how many SUVs there were, so I calculated that if I did ten a night for five nights a week, I’d be able to do more than 2,000 in a year,” the well-spoken 62-year-old proudly told me child this week. “I started in September and have done almost 100.”

If her actions weren’t so infuriating, the way this middle-class, semi-retired mother of three describes her foray into the world of eco-activism would be hilarious.

Living in an affluent corner of West London, she says she has become increasingly aware of the number of SUVs clogging the capital’s streets over the years.

“I saw the cars getting bigger and bigger,” she says. “I’m angry because cars emit carbon emissions and pollute the area around me and I can’t do anything about it.”

A decade ago, these vehicles accounted for around 6 per cent of all cars sold in the UK. Today, every fifth car sold is an SUV.

For a moment, Anna considered buying stickers to put on the offending cars. Then she heard about the Tire Firefighters campaign.

Its anonymously run website gives advice on how to deflate tires and provides leaflets to print and leave on windscreens explaining why the car was targeted. Campaigners are told how to use a lens or piece of gravel to slowly deflate the tire.

The aim of The Tire Extinguishers is to deter motorists from buying cars which they believe, due to their size and weight, are particularly harmful to the environment and dangerous to pedestrians

So, one September evening, Anna set off on her bicycle. Like all master “criminals,” she went prepared. On her back was a backpack filled with a stash of leaflets and a pill bottle filled with yellow split lentils that she usually used to make dhal.

It wasn’t until she knelt nervously next to her first tire that she discovered her cupboard sabotage tools, the yellow lens, weren’t going to do the trick. They were too big.

“I went back to the website and saw they said green lentils,” she explains. “So I took them instead.”

While her next outing was going according to plan, Anna admits she was nervous.

“I was worried that if I was on the ground trying to get the valve cover off, someone might come and hover over me.” What would she do if that happened, I ask? “I’d say, ‘I don’t want to do that, your car is too big, you should get a smaller one,'” she says.

“If SUV owners feel so angry about a flat tire or two, it may not just be because of the temporary inconvenience, but because deep down they know what they’re doing is wrong and they don’t like to it stands out to them.”

It’s anyone’s guess how this would play out with an angry driver. And her argument that having a few flat tires is no big deal will, I suspect, be even more frowned upon.

“If I’ve caught you in a bad moment by leaving your tires on, you’re not helpless,” she says. “You can take an Uber, a taxi.

Its anonymously run website gives advice on how to deflate tires and provides leaflets to print and leave on windscreens explaining why the car was targeted

“It’s not like I haven’t experienced things like that myself. I’ve had three bikes stolen in the last three years, so I know what it’s like to be inconvenienced – and I think the inconvenience they cause the rest of the world is much greater.

But in the real world — in the midst of an economic crisis — don’t people just want to get on with their lives, make a living, send their kids to school? So you don’t have to pay for an Uber while you sort out two flat tires. But maybe it’s easier to be idealistic when, like Anna, you’re single, semi-retired and living in a flat in a nice part of London.

Under these circumstances and with three grown children, getting around by bike or public transport is not a big difficulty.

She fumed: “It’s ridiculous, it’s not like I haven’t had to work my whole life and be at a certain place at 9am every day. . . so it wouldn’t be fair to say I’ve had an easy life, so that’s putting it mildly.

But what about when she was younger? It turns out that not only did Anna actually own a car, but that it was a Toyota Rav4, just the kind of SUV she’s now targeting.

“I had a car when my kids were little,” admits Anna. “I lived for 20 years in Wiltshire and we lived down a dirt track and pulled horses in a trailer.”

Very nice. But isn’t it rather hypocritical? Anna refutes the suggestion, claiming that her SUV, which she got rid of when she moved to London a decade ago, was smaller and lighter than the newer ones.

“I looked at it – it’s half the weight of new cars,” she says. “It was a car that could take us through the snow and take anything down. It’s not like today’s jeeps and I haven’t had one in London. If I was in London I would be on a bike, moped or public transport.

Even with three kids? “The toddler stage isn’t that long,” Anna replies.

“Anna” said she has inflated nearly 100 SUV tires since September and tries to do a few every night on her way home from work

As a father of three, I bite my tongue and keep asking if there are any SUV owners she shouldn’t target.

“I was about to do a car and I saw there was a disabled card, so I’m not doing it,” she says.

What about the growing number of electric and hybrid SUVs that will have lower emissions than smaller petrol or diesel cars?

She says that while she tries to avoid them, their extra weight, dust from their brake pads and rubber from tire wear add to the pollution.

“The only thing I’m worried about is someone getting into a car I just made and going down the highway,” she says.

“So I do it at the end of the day on a sleepy street. I put the slip on each and always put it in front of where the driver sits.

“I don’t want to do it and I don’t like it, but it’s an extreme reaction out of desperation. If the government won’t do anything, what else can we do?’

Anna tries to target several SUVs every night on her way home from work, early in the evening.

“I think that’s the easiest way to put it in,” she says casually, as if someone were talking about delivering the parish magazine. “It takes me about an hour to do ten. I can’t afford any more time.

A former TV writer, she now works part-time, but declined to say what they are. Anna is not her real name and although the Daily Mail is aware of her true identity, she agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity.

She accepts that if she is caught in the act, she could be charged with criminal damage, possibly jail time. It’s a risk she’s willing to take.

In fact, she wants to see more people like her. “We need an army of late middle-aged women.”

An army equipped not only with a sense of unshakable self-belief, like Anna, but also with a bag full of the right kind of lens.

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