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Groundhog Day on the lockdown line

A third anti-lockdown protest in just eight days once again was followed by former Special Branch officer Chris Hobbs.

Photo credit: @drnimages1

Photo credit: @drnimages1

Date - 13th January 2021
By - Chris Hobbs

After last Wednesday’s protest in Parliament Square by anti-Lockdown protesters, I used the term Groundhog Day in respect of the third planned protest in just eight days, yet events didn’t quite turn out as predicted.

As an east London boy who lived most of his adult life in west London, south of the river is very unfamiliar territory. The instructions for protesters involved meeting at Clapham Common. Never having been to Clapham Common, I didn’t realise how vast it actually is. A couple of small groups of protesters were equally confused and we looked in vain for guidance on the council provided notice board.

The tactic though was sound and apparently repeated by other protesters in Bournemouth. A tweet, which I missed, was sent out on social media shortly after the advertised protest time; it indicated a more specific location namely that part of the open space adjacent to Clapham Common station.

Dealing with a similar event in Dorset, the local police referred to this as a ‘flashmob’ tactic. I did see a couple of groups moving along Clapham Common South Side in that direction and so duly followed.  Others moved in a group from the common itself.

Also moving in that direction were a number of police carriers on ‘blues and twos.’  By the time of my belated arrival, officers from carriers outside Sainsbury’s were making arrests watched by an intrigued crowd of shoppers and those drawn from their permitted exercise on the nearby common. I watched from the opposite side of the road as a female protester, separated from her colleagues, abused those shoppers for wearing masks. A loud voice could be heard replying,’ Why don’t you just f*ck off.’ There appeared to be little sympathy from those watching events for the protest.

Events on Clapham Common

Further protesters, mingling with shoppers, made their way back to the common where there were verbal confrontations with police, one of which received a great deal of attention on social media with the wrongful assumption being made that the two arguing with police were simply using the common for legitimate exercise.

The situation was slightly bizarre as the common was busy with walkers, joggers and cyclists while the shopping area was equally busy with….shoppers, all seemingly complying with the regulations and, as stated, showing little sympathy for the protesters.

An unpleasant interlude

As the situation calmed down, I went back along the Southside of Clapham Common to the Tesco’s Superstore at Clapham South. Having used their facilities and purchased ‘refs,’ I opted for a bus back. There were just two ladies on the bottom deck but we were joined at the next stop by a youth clutching an opened bottle of something.

He announced to the driver that he wouldn’t be paying as he was on travelling for one stop. He came towards the rear of the bus where he began a foul mouthed, incoherent rant which included references to ‘stabbing people up.’ The ladies looked steadfastly out of the window while I studiously avoided his gaze while formulating plans A and B.

Fortunately, he was true to his word and got off, with me, at the next stop which was where there was a significant police presence on the common.

‘Leave him to us,’ said two TSG officers and I duly left them to carry out the inevitable stop and search.

The Brixton Migration

By this time there were seven TSG carriers on roads surrounding the common while I was informed by very professional and helpful photo-journalists, that some protesters were on their way to Brixton.

A local publication, Brixton Buzz, carried two stories in relation the 25 who initially gathered in Windrush Square and was less than complementary. The article described the behaviour of the protesters as ‘bizarre and offensive’ and later, the individuals concerned as ‘morons.’

In all the Met stated that 16 arrests had been made on the day out of a total of no more than 100 protesters. These recent protests have been a far cry from the 10,000 who attended earlier Trafalgar Square demonstrations.

The media

Since Wednesday’s anti-Lockdown protest and the announcement of firmer police action, sections of the media have gone into overdrive.

Talk Radio presenter Julia Hartley-Brewer tweeted this which provoked a furious reaction from the police community.  

Over the weekend, discussions featured on both MSM and SM concerning examples of ‘over- zealous’ policing appeared to eclipse those relating to the tragic events occurring in our hospitals.

Given that the number of Covid related interactions between police and public must have numbered tens of thousands since the pandemic began and given the complex, ever changing regulations, events will occasionally take a wrong turn. The result is the inevitable reality of ‘collective smearing’ where all police have to shoulder the blame in respect of any media criticism of any incident.

In Dorset on Saturday, another anti-Lockdown protest took place and another incident was duly filmed and placed on social media. On this occasion, Dorset police issued a strong statement which clearly indicated that the confrontation was a pre-planned incident or, in other words, a ‘set up.’  

However, whether justified or not, constant denigration of police without reference to the positive side of compassionate, caring policing that takes place on a daily basis during these difficult times, can only make the job of front- line officers both more difficult and more dangerous.

Chris Hobbs is a retired Metropolitan Police officer 

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