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When Saturday comes: an eventful return to public order events

Former Special Branch officer Chris Hobbs who has been observing London protests for Police Oracle since the lockdown, returns to the fray.

Officers on duty outside the Tate Gallery

Officers on duty outside the Tate Gallery

Date - 17th February 2023
By - Chris Hobbs

It had been some weeks since I ventured forth to observe a day’s public order events in London. The lack of protests, transport strikes and an irritable hip combined to ensure that I remained relatively close to home until last Saturday.

It was a day that would see the Met under pressure with contentious football encounters throughout the day which required a significant presence of level 2 public order trained officers, most of whom would be taken away from their ordinary duties.

My first port of call was, strangely, an event for children at the Tate Britain gallery on Millbank. That seems innocuous, but the fact that the hosts would be drag queens prompted a protest which, in turn produced a response from anti-racist groups who were due to meet at 10am; an hour before the children’s event was due to get under way.

As I walked from Westminster, I was passed by several carriers on ‘blues and two’s.’ Apparently, the early protest arrivals were chased off by anti-racist leftists.

This protest took place against the background of serious disorder in Knowsley on Merseyside the previous night, where the far-right group, Patriotic Alternative, had conducted a leafletting campaign before holding a public meeting in relation to migrants being housed at a local hotel. The situation was exacerbated by footage purporting to show a 25-year-old male approaching a 15 year-old schoolgirl who, it must be said, handled the situation with aplomb The resultant disorder saw a police carrier burnt out and officers bombarded with missiles.

More arrivals at the Tate, from both sides, saw a couple of minor scuffles quickly broken up by police. Eventually the rival factions were separated at the front of the Tate by two lines of officers. By this time, I had already ‘tweeted out’ a photo of police carriers and referred to ‘anti-racists’ and the ‘far right.’ The description of the latter was simply due to the fact that there were a number of very familiar faces from previous unrelated demonstrations, amongst those protesting against the event itself.

The arrival of Piers Corbyn, complete with speakers and his attempt to set up his sound system in close proximity to the leftists, saw another scuffle as Corbyn was subjecting to some fairly gentle jostling.

He left shortly after and it was later discovered he’d gone to the BBC to protest about something else where footage showed a female companion being arrested for criminal damage with Corbyn being arrested in the same incident having clumped a female officer over the head with his bag.

Meanwhile at the Tate, children, accompanied by their parents were entering the building via a side entrance for the first of three showings, each lasting an hour.

During this lull in proceedings, I decided to cross Vauxhall Bridge in order to utilise a gentleman’s convenience by Vauxhall Station.

I cried for help but no help came

As I crossed the bridge, I noticed a male about 50 yards in front of me. He seemed agitated and then began approaching individuals passing in the opposite direction and shouting in their faces. Twice in quick succession, he took wild punches at passing joggers which missed.

At this point, I decided to dial 999 and was quickly put through to a very capable operator. Strangely, although some distance away, the male seemed to know who I was calling and approached me shouting. We continued to cross the bridge and I continued to provide a commentary to the operator who was also hearing the ranting as the man was literally in my face shouting. The operator would have heard me telling the male to ‘get back.’

As the saga continued, the male threatened to ‘kill me,’ as the operator was somewhat despairingly letting me know that they were trying (and failing) to find a unit available to assist.

We eventually reached the opposite side of the bridge and the male grabbed both my arms. Despite the years since my last ‘OST’ session I remembered enough to swiftly extricate myself from his grip. After a few more rants, he appeared to lose interest, crossed the road to the bus station and boarded a bus towards Lewisham, details of which were passed to the operator.

With the incident over, the operator stated that a unit would be with me in about seven minutes. The incident was duly reported to a pleasant trio of Transport command officers.

Clearly with West Ham v Chelsea, Palace v Brighton and QPR v Millwall (see below) as high risk matches plus other matches plus protests, the Met’s front line was stretched to the limit. However, the lack of a Response vehicle was disconcerting and I was relieved not to see a bladed article produced during the encounter.

I returned to the protest and recounted my tale of woe to two other seasoned observers. The protester numbers on both sides had reduced and I decided to move on. In so doing I missed a later scuffle when one of the far-right group was arrested.

And so, it was a walk up to Trafalgar Square where a demonstration was in progress against the current Iranian regime. Unless there are pro-regime supporters around, these events are normally trouble free and this was no exception. There was rousing music, numerous flags and impassioned speeches together with a montage laid out on the footway of those killed by the regime over recent months.

No one likes us, we don’t care. (That’s Millwall fans not Met officers)

As I turned to return to west London, I realised that I could, on my way home, stop off in Shepherds Bush in time for the final whistle and the dispersal of both sets of QPR and Millwall fans. By the time I got to the ground, the final whistle was just minutes away and police had cordoned off certain roads. In Ellerslie Road, a cordon ensured that QPR supporters wouldn’t walk past the exit where Millwall fans would leave the ground. One or two residents weren’t happy and shortly after the final whistle, a tanned individual with a man-bun screamed foul mouthed abuse at officers who refused to let him through.

Departing QPR fans were clearly less than impressed and one approached him, grabbed his shoulders and led him away. Others voiced their disapproval. What was surprising and heartening was the obvious fact that despite the dreadful publicity suffered by the Met, relations between its officers and supporters were extremely cordial.

I walked back to the Uxbridge Road hearing the views of disappointed home fans who had lost 2-1. On reaching West London’s arterial corridor, it wasn’t long before thousands of heavily escorted victorious Millwall fans came into view with their haunting chant and favourite song,’ No-one likes us, we don’t care.’

All officers were ‘kitted’ with helmets clipped and many shoppers paused to capture the scenes on their mobile phones. It was good to be greeted by officers who recognised me and one warned there might be trouble ahead.

The potential flashpoint was the White Horse pub on the Uxbridge Road which was, so I was later informed, the favourite watering hole of QPR’s less salubrious element. Police were clearly aware of that fact with a strong police presence outside including a van containing one of UK policing’s favourite assets; a land shark or to the uninitiated, a police dog.

The less salubrious element were outside waiting and hurled insults at the passing Millwall fans who responded in kind. Both sides attempted to confront the other but police simply pushed them back whilst the ‘land shark’ let its feelings be known after its handler strategically placed it between the two groups.

The Millwall fans continued down to Shepherds Bush station where they were welcomed by the BTP. The automatic gates struggled to cope with the volume of passengers and there was plenty of visible ‘piggy backing’ through the gates.

At 17.58 the last of the Millwall fans had left the station and all those involved in a challenging policing operation could congratulate themselves on a job well done.

In fact, it was a job well done in terms of everything I viewed while the contentious football matches passed without major disorder. Only the lack of response in respect of the Vauxhall Bridge incident proved a blip but with Response units so thinly spread and the ridiculous demands placed on their crews, it was hardly surprising.

The Twitter pile-on

As I was making my way towards west London, I noticed some interesting responses to my earlier factual tweet that included the term ‘far-right’ when referring to one of the two groups of protesters outside the Tate.

By the time the Millwall supporters had left Shepherds Bush, the tweeted responses were replicating themselves with mind-blowing speed. It would seem I was, in essence, lying and smearing those present. These were not far right protesters but concerned parents protecting children.

As the ‘pile-on’ gathered speed, the conclusion was being reached that I was actively supporting an event dedicated to grooming children. My response that I recognised familiar faces and hadn’t got a clue as to what the controversial event consisted of. My initial tweet was simply a statement of fact.

As I insisted that I wasn’t mistaken in respect of the far right, a fact confirmed by more seasoned observers than me. I also pointed out that those children attending were accompanied by their parents who could of course, remove their children at any time.

By the time I got home, the tweeting had become frenetic, including, sadly, from retired police officers who were also followers. I became weary of responding with the simple statement that mine was a statement of fact and that I wasn’t aware of the content of the event.

Fortunately, riding to the rescue later than evening was Mark Collett, the leader of Patriotic Alternative who sent out a tweet featuring a photo of himself and four other placard wielding activists. He thanked all those who had participated in the Tate protest.

Studying research into those contemporary denizens of the right as published from those allied to the left, has to be approached with a degree of caution in terms of separating fact from rhetoric. Nevertheless, all research, including that compiled by Sun, speaks of Mark’s membership of the BNP and the Sun even describes him a s a neo-Nazi.

Those amongst Mark’s detractors who wish to visually confirm his far-right allegiances, will frequently point to a much-used photo of himself posing with his ex-girlfriend who sports a large, unmissable Nazi tattoo.

There was, however, no let up on the Sunday which was spent trying to be polite and pointing out the simple relevant facts that the far right were heavily involved, that I wasn’t aware of the content of the event and I added a further point, that as the event was appearing with some regularity, it could be subject to an Ofsted inspection who would determine whether the material was suitable for children or not.

Those who might suggest that Ofsted is, to use current parlance, a woke organisation and therefore would be biased in favour of certain groups should be reassured by the fact that it has taken action in respect of some, and I stress some, small independent Islamic schools.

I’ve still no idea of the content of the shows which were performed at the Tate: However, the fact that police are looking at the brutal murder of 16-year-old Brianna Ghey as a possible transphobic crime and given that which was reportedly endured by Brianna during her young life, any event which promotes tolerance and encourages individuals to be kinder to others, can surely only be a good thing.

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