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Viewpoint: Policing protests that are part and parcel of London life

Retired police officer Chris Hobbs reflects on a number of demonstrations which took place across the capital last Saturday.

Viewpoint: Policing protests that are part and parcel of London life

Date - 27th July 2023
By - Chris Hobbs
1 Comment 1 Comment}

The leaden skies over central London last Saturday suggested the imminent reporting for duty of PC Rain, whose presence would normally ensure a trouble-free day for those officers taken away from their normal duties together with those who should have been enjoying a day off. Their task, as is seen every weekend, is to police the protests that are very much a feature of London life.

First up was the Saturday, Just Stop Oil (JSO) protest; a weekly event that takes place around the Whitehall area and is relatively sanguine as opposed to the daily interference of traffic that takes place at various London locations from Monday to Friday.

A change in legislation appeared to have prompted a more vigorous response from the Met during the week and that seemed to be reflected in a larger number than usual of Saturday JSO ‘slow walkers.’

They were joined by a small number of doctors, nurses and other medical professionals in their scrubs together with a handful of animal rights activists.

Their meet time was 12 noon in Parliament Square and the first hour was spend in two seated groups apparently for briefing/motivational purposes. At ten past one, the whole group moved onto the road directly in front of Parliament. They had taken but a few slow steps before they were joined by police officers ‘whispering in their ear,’ presumably that they were ‘in the frame’ for arrest.

By the time the group were turning right which would take them past Westminster Abbey, those in medical scrubs were apologetically removing themselves to the pavement explaining that being arrested could adversely affect their careers.

Within minutes, it seemed that a decision had been taken that there were to be no arrests today as all the protesters returned to the pavement. Suddenly, however, there was a scuffle and a bewildering arrest. The protester arrested was a male who was clearly one of key individuals in that he normally led and orchestrated the Saturday protests. Earlier he had amicably been discussing their plans with the Inspector who appeared responsible for the Parliament Square operation.

The rest of the protesters seemed a little stunned at this turn of events. The arrested man was taken across the road and was joined by a few of his supporters. There was clearly going to be a wait for prisoner transport and the detained man utilised his time making a lengthy statement extolling the virtues of the JSO campaign.

This caused some considerable consternation on twitter when the footage was observed. There were suggestions that officers should somehow have ‘shut him up.’

After the individual was transported to a custody suite somewhere in London, the rest of the rather bedraggled group opted to walk around Parliament Square and up Whitehall holding their signs and banners so that they could be read by passing motorists.

The Freedom Protest sees disorder.

At the same time JSO were organising themselves, another group were meeting in a corner of Parliament Square. This was some sort of ‘Freedom; anti-globalisation,’ gathering and involved a number of issues including anti-vaxx/anti-lockdown and the campaign for post Covid ‘Nuremberg trials,’ plus ‘five-minute cities,’ ULEZ, LTN’s the evils of a cashless society, vapour trails and the threat to freedom posed by the World Economic Forum. This particular group are also opposed to the UK’s support for Ukraine.

Earlier that day there was a ULEZ protest outside the BBC which drew several hundred protesters and was covered by GB News. Whilst there was no mass migration from Portland Place to Parliament Square, some individuals had clearly been motivated to attend both.

As the JSO protesters moved slowly along the footways of Whitehall, the ‘Freedom’ protesters suddenly grouped up and left Parliament Square catching police unawares. They marched towards and then across Westminster Bridge in the now persistent rain. Territorial Support Group (TSG) carriers quickly followed yet didn’t have to travel far as the march stopped at St. Thomas’s Hospital.

Even some of the marchers seemed bewildered as, despite the rain, individuals began plastering the ground floor window with stickers. The crowd could only be described as intimidatory and there was an inevitability in respect of officers intervening with those affixing the stickers.

The result was two arrests and a hostile reaction by the crowd as officers were jostled and abused. The prisoners were extricated with the professionalism that could be expected of the TSG and the ugly incident ended with the crowd moving off before pausing to regroup.

Quite why St. Thomas’s was targeted remains unclear but a similar incident took place on New Year’s Eve 2020 when protesters chanting, ‘Covid is a hoax,’ congregated at the hospital entrance to the distress of staff.

Whilst some of the protesters decided that enough was enough and headed for home, about 60 continued their aimless trek into south London escorted by the TSG.

Thus, another successful public order policing operation was concluded but one question being considered by seasoned protest observers, is why, given the UK’s dire economic situation, there are not massive protests involving tens of thousands on the streets of London.

Whatever the reason, it’s a situation doubtless welcomed by Met public order commanders who already have to contend with the near daily challenge of Just Stop Oil.

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Anonymous - Fri, 28 July 2023

In a few weeks time football will start and have an impact on Policing. What with Chelsea Brentford Fulham and QPR all in one London Boro albeit that last team is not premiership plus Arsenal Spurs Chelsea West Ham and Crystal Palace some of these teams could do well in Europe all have big impact on resources. Tend to find your level 2 officers are also your pro active Response drivers on team all has a knock on effect.