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A large, well-attended peaceful protest until…..

What was a large peaceful protest was marred by attacks on officers late in the day. Police Oracle contributor Chris Hobbs reflects on how it turned violent.

Photo courtesy of DRN images

Photo courtesy of DRN images

Date - 26th April 2021
By - Chris Hobbs
2 Comments 2 Comments}

It was decision that I had cause to regret. After marching around the streets of central London for a distance of 10 miles at the head of a vast procession of protesters I decided that the remnants of the crowd in and around Speakers Corner were as tired and footsore as I was and any incidents worthy of note, unlikely. I was to be proved very, very wrong.

The day had started off inauspiciously; on the Piccadilly Line heading to Hyde Park Corner and next to the carriage where I was standing, a number of rowdy maskless protesters were berating passengers who were obeying regulations and wearing masks.

One feature of the anti-Lockdown, anti-vaxx, there is no pandemic demonstrations is the cat and mouse game the organisers play, presumably with police, in terms of the assembly point. In order to ensure that police cannot take action, they delay announcing that assembly point until two hours before the scheduled start. Whilst police intelligence may have suffered due to cutbacks, it certainly hasn’t deteriorated to that extent.

The march out from Hyde Park Corner began ahead of time and was clearly going to be huge. I managed to reach the head of it as it made noisy progress up Park Lane towards Speaker’s Corner. At one stage it stopped as the marchers looked to their left and began cheering and applauding. I could soon see why; in the distance moving across the Hyde Park grass could be seen thousands of protesters relocating from Speakers Corner to the assembly point. It would seem they had erroneously believed that the Speakers Corner was the location from which the march would proceed.

Such were the numbers there was no way the march could be policed. The City of London ‘bike cops’ again did a superb job at the head of the march ensuring the safety of the protesters and, with several Met traffic motor cyclists, attempted to minimise traffic chaos. Also at the head of the march were two evidence gatherers and several, presumably FIT (Forward Intelligence Team) officers.

On this occasion, it was clear that the march had its generals. Every so often the procession would halt in order to allow everyone to catch up and instructions were shouted through a megaphone.

Confusion and the man in the white hoodie

The only hiccup occurred when the head of the march turned right at the top of Oxford Street into Charing Cross Road while the bulk of the protesters continued straight up New Oxford Street heading for the relatively deserted streets of the City of London.

Following the FIT team and Evidence Gatherers through the back streets managed to see us back at the head of the procession which stopped in order that the ‘Generals’ could sort themselves out.

Although the march was generally peaceful, one individual in a white printed hoodie and pony tail was causing problems for the small number of officers at the head of the march. He could be seen frequently in the faces of those officers screaming that they were f*cking Nazis and this (whatever this was) was all their (presumably the police service in its entirety) fault.

He did so safe in the knowledge, that police were hopelessly outnumbered and to effect an arrest would unquestionably provoke scenes that were to be seen later in the day.

However, later in procession, he pushed his luck where there were sufficient officers and footage shows his arrest.

There then followed a long march through the City of London before walking down to the Embankment and along to New Scotland Yard. Chants of, ‘arrest Matt Hancock’ could be heard but after the briefest of delays, the march recommenced although it would seem there was one arrest.

Surprisingly there was no attempt to enter Whitehall and take the protest to Downing Street but instead the marchers trapsed past Parliament Square and then to Buckingham Palace. There the marchers regrouped but were soon on the move returning to Hyde Park and then through the park itself to Speakers Corner. Interestingly as the head of the march reached Buckingham Palace, it was also still proceeding along the Embankment.

And now the march is over

As they arrived, many marchers made use of the vast expanse of grass and relaxed. Others formed a lengthy queue at the Speakers Corner coffee stall. One of the leaders with a megaphone seemed to indicate that we’d all be marching off again. Happily, there seemed zero enthusiasm for that suggestion. As marchers arrived others left for home and this continued for a considerable length of time. The first marchers passed through Wellington Arch at around 4pm before walking across the park. Marchers were still arriving at Speakers Corner at 5pm.

Groups formed on the grass area and impromptu meetings were held. As time progressed, groups also left the park before returning with packs and bottles of alcohol. Four major gatherings seemed to be forming; one was an African music group, two others saw speeches with one being addressed by Piers Corbyn while yet another had a sound system which was playing ‘modern’ music.

Both I and an independent photo-journalist who has provided me with valuable advice, took a break outside the park by several police carriers. We chatted with three young, yet very impressive officers from Forest Gate. As we chatted, a protester walked past shouting at officers as he strolled towards the shops in Oxford Street.

Shortly after the officers had returned to their carrier, the individual returned. As he walked past an ‘Islam against terrorism’ stand,’ he shouted ‘F*ck islam’ before scuttling across the road and back to the crowds. This perhaps was an illustration of the breadth of political views present. I, and others, recognised a number of faces from violent far right protests but also present were those sporting Extinction Rebellion and Black Lives Matter insignia.

Interestingly, I was approached by a guy asking for directions to a gent’s toilet. I offered to show him and it transpired that he had a medical problem. We walked across the park and I waited for him so we could complete the return journey. I was quite surprised to find out that he was a protester who had come down from Chester with family and was staying in Oxford. He was also very pro-police which was a reminder that good people could hold views with which I profoundly disagreed.

I and the photo journo decided to have another walk around what had become effectively a party. Speeches continued as did the music. What was noticeable was the considerable quantity of litter that was accumulating including countless beer bottles and cans. It would seem that ‘Freedom’ as was still being chanted, extended to being able to deposit litter wherever was convenient.

Freedom however, it would appear, doesn’t extend to a freedom of choice in respect of mask wearing.

During this time, a small number of police officers strolled around the area in twos keeping a benevolent eye on proceedings. With my feet and ageing legs aching and my companion suffering from a knee injury he suffered a week earlier, we decided enough was enough and opted to join the exodus from the park.

It was only on returning from a much-needed visit to my local pub, that I noticed messages on my phone which referred to serious disorder in Hyde Park.

Thus, thanks to my own poor decision making, the following events are compiled from reliable eye witness accounts of those who were there and complete footage (as opposed to dubious clips).

Enough is enough.

It would seem that at 7.45, with dusk approaching, the Met decided that proceedings should be brought to an end. A serial of officers in their ‘day uniforms’ moved into the crowd that surrounded a sound system. The reaction was one that I had seen at previous anti-Lockdown protests in Trafalgar Square and more recently also in Hyde Park.

The crowd ‘swarm’ the officers involved, pushing and shoving whilst chanting ‘shame on you’ or alternatively, ‘choose your side.’ The footage also shows an arrest being made which would have exacerbated the situation still further. Other footage shows officers forming a protective circle which is a known tactic after an arrest is made. Other officers in ‘day uniforms’ arrived to assist yet the weight of crowd and the plentiful supply of bottles and cans saw the officers retreat to avoid being outflanked. One male clutching a green shopping bag could be seen kicking at retreating officers, another was ‘caught on camera’ punching a female officer

The officers regrouped at a gap in the fencing and faced what had now become a mob. They successfully ‘held the line’ until numerous reinforcements arrived in the form of officers who were ‘kitted out’ but without NATO helmets.

Several distressing pictures of injured officers appeared in the media and the incident sparked a debate on police social media concerning the wearing of protective uniforms including NATO helmets.

It should be noted however that a number of protesters did place themselves between police and those attempting to attack them.

There was predictably, considerable criticism from activists as to the Met’s decision to end proceedings with comparisons being made to Clapham Common. The Met issued a statement saying that the organisers had agreed that the protest should end at 6.30pm. It was also likely that ‘Gold’ would have been aware of the alcohol being consumed and the cannabis being smoked. Just days earlier in Hyde Park, police had to render first aid and investigate a stabbing of a 15- year- old girl at the ‘420’ cannabis event.

In addition, dusk was approaching and therefore a probable consideration is that the Met did not wish to deal with a drunken, crowd that had been hostile to police at previous protests in the darkness. Similar difficulties have been experienced by officers of other forces when attempting to deal with ‘countryside’ raves. There was also the possibility of friction between rival groups who were at opposite ends of the political spectrum.

Finally, in addition to the copious quantities of litter, several other Royal Parks regulations were also clearly being flouted.

And finally:

Throughout the course of the afternoon, I was being told by various holders of megaphones that there was ‘no pandemic,’ that there was a ‘new world order’ plot, that vaccinations were part of a conspiracy, that 99.7% of Covid cases didn’t lead to death (which at least suggested Covid existed). There were also media reports with pictures which appeared to show that some protesters were wearing yellow stars of David as if to compare themselves with Jewish victims of the holocaust.

Twitter users reacted with fury and the Auschwitz Memorial responded as follows:

“Instrumentalization of the tragedy of Jews who suffered, were humiliated, marked with a yellow star, and finally isolated in ghettos and murdered during the Holocaust, in order to argue against vaccination that saves human lives is a sad symptom of moral and intellectual decline.”

Strangely enough, throughout the afternoon, no mention of India. Perhaps even most vehement of conspiracy theorists felt that to portray the heart-breaking footage currently emanating from that country as fake news would be, even for them, a bridge too far.

Chris Hobbs is a former Metropolitan Police officer who worked in  Special Branch  

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DT - Tue, 27 April 2021

A very well written and objective account. I wish that the MSM would publish articles such as these.