Police disperse fourth anti-lockdown march in London

Damien Gayle
·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Vickie Flores/EPA</span>
Photograph: Vickie Flores/EPA

Tens of thousands of people joined a march through central London against the coronavirus restrictions on Saturday afternoon, calling for an end to lockdowns and other measures they described as a threat to civil rights.

Chanting and shouting at people to take off their masks, protesters marched a winding route through the centre of London, taking in Oxford Street, Leicester Square and Buckingham Palace, before ending at Trafalgar Square.

Police called time on the protest, the fourth in London so far, shortly before 4pm. In a post to the Metropolitan police Twitter account, the force said: “The protest under the name of ‘Stop The New Normal’ have failed to comply with the terms of their risk assessment, government guidelines and they are not maintaining social distancing.

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“The officer in charge has now determined their protest is no longer exempt from the regulations and is an illegal gathering. We are now telling those participating in this protest to leave.”

A small group of protesters chose not to disperse, and carried on a march to Westminster Bridge, where police blocked their path and there were scuffles. According to the Met, 10 arrests connected to the demonstration had been made by 5pm.

Shortly before the arrests, Louise Creffield, founder of Save Our Rights UK, a campaign group that helped organise the protest, said: “We’re really pleased, the turnout was phenomenal and we’ve managed to get away with no one being injured or arrested. It’s really good to be able to have a voice, and this is the only way we get it.”

Protesters had gathered at Hyde Park at around midday, where they heard speeches from Creffield and Piers Corbyn, the older brother of the former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Protesters confront police in London
Protesters confront police in London. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Corbyn had exhorted protesters to “stop new normal, save lives”, while Creffield had said: “Today we are standing in our power and we are not abiding by their rules.

“It doesn’t matter what they say, it doesn’t matter what threats they bring, it doesn’t matter if they try and intimidate us, we are not going to accept it, because we don’t abide by their rules. We don’t listen because we do not consent.”

Among the protesters taking part was Chloe Toop, 32, a schoolteacher. “I’m doing it for the next generation, fighting for them,” she said, adding that she was anxious about young people “not having a life that I have growing up, not being able to go on holiday or to festivals”.

“Kids are now scared to go and meet each other, hug each other. Social interaction is so important.”

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As well as grievances over face masks and lockdown measures, protesters carried placards and posters railing against vaccines, Bill Gates and alleged elite child abuse rings, as well as the increasingly popular QAnon conspiracy theory.

One elderly protester, Mike, who declined to give his age or surname, marched with a placard that said: “Lockdown is a form of psychological torture and a crime against humanity.”

He said: “There is a virus. It is a virus that kills people. But the effects of it have been exaggerated. The government is using it because it enjoys having control over people. It didn’t start that way, but it’s certainly turned into it. Governments don’t necessarily have a single motive over things, they can have a multiplicity of motives.”

By 6pm the Met said officers had made 18 arrests, for offences including breaching coronavirus regulations, assaulting an emergency service worker and violent disorder. Three officers suffered minor injuries, police said.

Commander Ade Adelekan, the Met’s gold commander for Saturday, said: “Organisers did not take reasonable steps to keep protesters safe which then voided their risk assessment. At this point, officers then took action to disperse crowds in the interests of public safety.

“I am grateful that the vast majority of people listened to officers and quickly left the area. Frustratingly, a small minority became obstructive, deliberately ignoring officers’ instructions and blocking Westminster Bridge.”