Anti-lockdown protesters clash with police in central London a week after Sarah Everard vigil

Published: 20 March 2021

Post Desk : Police clashed with Covid lockdown protesters in London on Saturday amid criticism of the Metropolitan Police’s handling of the Sarah Everard vigil last week.

Thousands of protesters, including Piers Corbyn and Laurence Fox, marched through the streets of London.

The protest started at Hyde Park and continued onto Oxford Street, in defiance of lockdown measures that ban mass gatherings.

Fireworks were fired at police in early skirmishes with marchers shouting “Freedom” and “We’re coming for you Boris” as they headed towards Downing Street.

Footage from the protest showed officers clashing with protesters as one was pulled to the ground and handcuffed in one of 13 arrests made so far.

Most of the arrests have been for breaching Covid-19 regulations, police said.

Demonstrators shouted “shame on you” at police, with one person carrying a banner reading “stop destroying our kids’ lives”.

Another woman held a sign which said: “Yes sex is great, but have you ever been f***ed by the Government?”

Taking to Twitter, the Met Police said: “Met officers are engaging with those gathering around Piccadilly and other areas of central London to protest, explaining that we remain in a public health crisis and urging people to disperse or go home.”

It comes as more than 60 MPs and peers have signed a letter warning that allowing the police to criminalise people for protesting is “is not acceptable and is arguably not lawful”.

The letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel and Health Secretary Matt Hancock was co-ordinated by Liberty and Big Brother Watch.

Signatories include the Tory MPs Sir Charles Walker, Steve Baker, Sir Christopher Chope and Sir Desmond Swayne and the Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey.

The letter follows a public outcry over the way the Metropolitan Police moved in to break up a vigil last week on Clapham Common in memory of Sarah Everard.

The protest started out peacefully before scuffles broke out at the front of a crowd as police surrounded a bandstand covered in floral tributes to the 33-year-old marketing executive.

Male officers were photographed grabbing hold of several women before leading them away in handcuffs, to shouts and screams from onlookers.

The letter said such “shocking scenes” were “entirely avoidable” if the Government had provided guidance to police and ensured protests were clearly exempt from the ban on gatherings under lockdown.

Sam Grant, head of policy and campaigns at Liberty, said: “In a healthy democracy, protest is a critical way we can fight for what we believe in.

“The Government’s current quasi-ban on protest is completely unacceptable.

“Last week, the police conceded protest is not banned under the lockdown regulations, but used them to threaten then arrest demonstrators anyway.

“The Home Secretary must immediately issue guidance to all police forces to ensure socially distanced protests can go ahead and create an explicit exemption for protest in the current regulations.”

Big Brother Watch director Silkie Carlo said: “A country cannot be described as a democracy if people do not have the freedom to protest.

“The harrowing scenes of police officers using force against women at Clapham Common recently were avoidable and wrong.

“Over the past week, many more demonstrators and even legal observers have been arrested or fined.

“This stain on our democracy is a direct consequence of this Government’s disrespect for the most basic of British democratic freedoms.”