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Anti-Lockdown, disruption and the BBC journalist

Chris Hobbs covers the Met's handling of two London protests over three days - including the confrontation of BBC journalist Nick Watt.

Anti-Lockdown, disruption and the BBC journalist

Date - 16th June 2021
By - Chris Hobbs
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It was an innocuous start to a Monday of protest which was focussed, not just on Boris Johnson’s predictable, forthcoming, decision to retain Covid, but the other numerous issues surrounding the pandemic, including vaccinations, mask-wearing, 5G, a new world order, a global conspiracy and paedophilia.

I was present observing the protest throughout the day. About 400 were chanting outside Downing Street at noon having blocked Whitehall. Just after 1pm, they moved down to Parliament Square where they immediately took over the junction. Some traffic was still moving from Great George Street into Parliament Street but protesters later sat down blocking that exit. Police simply extricated traffic by turning it around; this included a police carrier.

It was unusual to see TSG officers on static, loose cordons, but they were immaculately turned out and unfazed by any abuse or insults that came their way. The use of the TSG on these cordons and the absence of police liaison officers in their familiar blue tabards appeared give weight to the suggestion that this protest had caught the Met unawares.  As events progressed, and more officers arrived the TSG were withdrawn.

Speeches by David Icke and Piers Corbyn outside Parliament were followed by an exodus down to Old Palace Yard. Here there was some friction between protesters and a hastily formed police cordon while an officer standing apart from the cordon had an anti-vaccine leaflet pinned to his back.

Back to Downing Street

At about 4pm, it was back to Downing Street for the 6pm announcement by Boris. Police engaged with protesters suggesting it was time to leave and indeed some did so. 6pm came and went and as the predicted ‘hold’ on lifting restrictions became known, it was received with relative equanimity by the protesters and more decided to call it a day.

Numbers eventually reduced to a hard core of around sixty and as 7pm approached, police opened the lane of traffic in Whitehall towards Parliament Square. Officers then politely asked protesters occupying the lanes leading to Trafalgar Square to go home or at least move to the footway. Some did, a number didn't. Those who remained either argued with police or walked away and returned to another location which continued to obstruct the road.

Police and protesters on Downing Street

Police then moved into a group asking them to move. The reaction was immediate and hostile and officers eventually withdrew to regroup again a few yards away. Officers then formed a line facing the protesters and again moved slowly forward attempting to persuade them to move. Again, many refused or argued with one individual in particular being especially obstructive and encouraging others to do likewise.

The mob and Nick Watt

The protesters had now been blocking roads in and around Parliament for seven hours when the incident involving BBC journalist occurred at around 7.30. Police were still trying to persuade protesters to get onto the footway so they could fully reopen Whitehall to traffic. 

I first noticed a group of protesters running between a thin cordon of officers who were facing the protesters. It was only when I was almost across the road that I became aware that the protesters were angry, hurling abuse and chasing an unfortunate male in a light blue shirt.

He tried to escape the howling mob by heading for an alleyway that runs alongside the Ministry of Defence towards the Embankment.  He had got a few yards into the alleyway, but with protesters alongside him, he clearly decided he wasn’t going to make it, turned around and ran back towards Downing Street, evading his protagonists as he did so. (I did subsequently comment that he could expect a call from the British Lions, such was his speed and fleetness of foot, and hopefully that didn’t detract from the seriousness of what was an appalling incident).

Running back across Whitehall, he eventually reached the barriers outside Downing Street as police realised what was occurring before he vanished behind the famous iron gates.

The issue raises some disturbing questions and was reminiscent of when Tommy Robinson supporters marched from the Old Bailey to Parliament before attacking journalists and photographers on College Green.

An arrest and the ‘rolling maul’

Shortly after this incident, police gently tried again to reopen Whitehall but groups of protesters still refused to move. Officers then suddenly, in a well-executed operation, arrested the most vocal individual who appeared to be leading the obstruction which, in turn, infuriated the crowd. Police formed a protective circle around the arresting officers and the suspect before attempting to get to a more secure location to await transport.

Protesters at Whitehall 

That saw a running melee akin to a rolling rugby maul, which resulted in a female officer being injured and a male officer punched in the face to the fury of another protester who actually tried to detain the middle-aged thug responsible.

The officers made it to King Charles Street, which is where serials retreated to after being attacked by Black Lives Matter activists last year. The arches make it easier to form a defensive line. Additional officers arrived and the crowd eventually drifted away.

Most of the crowd had dispersed when, back in Downing Street, another BBC journalist emerged, who was also abused but not chased, by the handful of protesters remaining. I caught up with him in order to ask the identity of the individual originally chased who I now know to be Nick Watt.

He was clearly shaken by the abuse he’d received and concerned for his safety even though he wasn’t aware of the earlier incident involving Nick.

I duly stayed with him until he was clear of protesters.


I’m sure the Met’s public order experts will learn whatever lessons needed to be learnt from this day. The officers policing the protest, once the TSG had departed seemed generally young in service. They were unfailingly patient and polite throughout what proved a difficult day but as the protesters became more truculent, I’m sure many were hoping for the appearance of the distinctive TSG carriers.

Police will now be only too well aware of the anti-Lockdown protest scheduled for the 26th of June which will, unquestionably attract tens of thousands or protesters after Boris Johnson’s address to the nation yesterday.

Again, this could be a major public order challenge, especially given the ‘storming of Westfield’ by thousands of anti-Lockdown activists two weeks ago.

‘Free Palestine’ protest

Saturday saw another pro-Palestinian protest that began at Downing Street. The numbers were only a fraction of those seen at the protest just weeks ago when the conflict was at its height. Nevertheless, several thousand attended and listened to impassioned speeches from a number of speakers through an effective sound system.

The controversial convoy which originated in Bradford apparently consisted of just 15 vehicles and by the time it reached Parliament Square, it had become fragmented in the London traffic. It also had its own escort of TSG carriers and there were no reports of misbehaviour.

Predictably, after the rally finished, most of the protesters marched to the Israeli Embassy, where a small number of officers in ‘day unforms’ stood behind the barriers. There was a great deal of chanting but no missiles were thrown at officers. As with all protests these days, I witnessed, two examples of ‘in your face’ intimidation.

In one case, a protester berated a police liaison officer whilst filming him at the same time with a ‘legal observer’ by his side assiduously making notes.

After a relatively short period of time, the protesters moved off again on what appeared to be another aimless walkabout.

Foiled: Another Westfield incursion

Surprisingly they walked up Kensington Church Street and took a left on to Notting Hill Gate. As they kept walking, I’d had enough and began to think about heading for home. Then the penny dropped;  the marchers were taking the same route taken by anti-Lockdown protesters two weeks previously in that they were heading for Shepherds Bush where of course, Westfield is situated.

Despite thinking, ‘surely not’ I stayed with the march and sure enough at Westfield, they took a right into the complex with some running. Escorting officers appeared taken by surprise but quickly on the scene were Level 2’s moving quickly to get ahead of the protesters.

However, the security team at Westfield had clearly learnt the lessons from the ‘Storming of Westfield’ by anti-Lockdown protesters two weeks previously. Entrances were quickly closed and there was simply no way in for protesters, who reached the end of the complex and stood in disconsolate groups as Westfield was effectively ‘locked down.’

Some returned to the area near Shepherds Bush Station where there was now a BTP presence. After a short meeting they moved off again down the Goldhawk Road, but both police and Westfield security knew they could return.

As I was hot, tired and thirsty, I decided enough was enough and headed for home. There were no further incidents, but this trend of attempting to ‘storm’ shopping complexes must be of concern to the Met and indeed other forces.

Daniel Morgan report and ‘institutionally corrupt.’

It appears that a long, challenging summer awaits for the Met; a situation surely exacerbated by the use of the term ‘institutionally corrupt’ which, regardless of the literal meaning, will label all front line officers as corrupt. This can already be seen by the thousands of comments on social media and can only make life more difficult and indeed dangerous for those officers working to keep us all safe.

Chris Hobbs is a former Met officer who worked in Special Branch. He has been following all the London lockdown protests as an observer on behalf of Police Oracle.

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Ordered by:
Springbok223 - Thu, 17 June 2021

Icke and Corbyn - so the crowd decided they didn't want a speaker with 'brain cells' talking to them.