London protests: 29 arrests as police break up anti-lockdown demonstration

19 December 2020, 11:27 | Updated: 20 December 2020, 08:19

A man was seen being led away by police.
A man was seen being led away by police. Picture: PA

By Joe Cook

London police have intervened as anti-lockdown protesters descended on the centre of the capital, as part of demonstrations across the UK on Saturday.

While the protests were not as large as expected, the Metropolitan Police said they had a "lengthy engagement" with protesters, who "are gathering in significant numbers".

The police tweeted: "Some protestors have refused to observe the requirements made of them".

A spokesperson later confirmed 29 people have been arrested.

Additional officers from the Met Police were deployed to “swiftly clamp down on those wilfully and dangerously ignoring” the rules.

People who organise protests that do not stick to the rules can face fines of up to £10,000.

Read more: Fears new Covid-19 strain spreading quickly as South East could face tougher travel rules

Anti-lockdown and anti-vaccination protesters assembled in Parliament Square.
Anti-lockdown and anti-vaccination protesters assembled in Parliament Square. Picture: PA

Images on social media showed protesters in running scuffles with police. It is not known if any arrests have been made.

Demonstrators marched from Parliament Square along Whitehall, booing as they passed Downing Street and shouting "freedom".

Read more: Boris Johnson calls emergency Cabinet meeting amid third lockdown fears

Protesters shouted "freedom" as they marched from Parliament Square.
Protesters shouted "freedom" as they marched from Parliament Square. Picture: PA

In addition to London's Parliament Square, protests are also expected on Saturday in Belfast, Sheffield, Cornwall, Glasgow and Newcastle.

The Met Police tweeted: "Covid cases continue to rise in London. The Rule of 6 still applies for all groups. A larger gathering may be exempt for certain reasons and if risk assessment has been submitted."

"Following lengthy engagement by the Met, the protest in Parliament Sq has still not submitted a risk assessment, and are gathering in significant numbers. This protest is not exempt from the ‘rule of 6’ and should not be happening."

Read more: Italy goes into Christmas and New Year lockdown over fears of Covid spike

Ahead of the protest, Met Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Laurence Taylor, said: “Where we become aware of planned events that will breach regulations, we will try to engage with organisers or venues to make them fully aware of the restrictions that are in place to keep people safe.

“However, if people do not listen to our advice and fail to comply with the rules, we will be forced to take enforcement action.”

Read more: Ministers 'consider Tier 4 restrictions after Christmas'

The planned protests come as London continues to see rising infections, with warnings that a new strain of coronavirus may be contributing to the rapid spread.

Read more: UK coronavirus R number rises to between 1.1 and 1.2

Boris Johnson was reported to have held an unscheduled meeting of ministers on Friday amid "growing concern" about the threat posed by the mutant strain.

Downing Street would not comment on reports that among the measures being considered by ministers were new travel restrictions for the South East of England.

Read more: Boris Johnson 'hopes to avoid' third lockdown but doesn't rule it out

The capital, alongside much of Essex and Hertfordshire moved into Tier 3 on Wednesday, with hospitality venues only allowed to operate as takeaways.

A spokesperson for Mayor of London Sadiq Khan told LBC: “The Mayor has been clear that although peaceful protest is a vital part of an open and democratic society, protests or large gatherings during the pandemic are dangerous and unsafe."

Ahead of the demonstration on Saturday, the Chair of the Met Police Federation, Ken Marsh, said it was expected to be "one of the biggest protests of the year".

"How and why is that going ahead? Politicians need to step in and stop it. Sadiq Khan or Priti Patel need to do something," he told the MyLondon website.

Read more: Christmas relaxations could lead to Covid 'tsunami', nursing chief warns

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A spokesperson for Mr Khan said: “The Mayor shares the Federation’s concerns that those who choose to protest are endangering not only their own health, but that of the officers required to police the event, their families, and the wider community.

“Protesters should find a safe and legal alternative to make their voice heard, until a time when the virus is no longer a threat in our city.”

On Monday, 11 people were arrested after a demonstration by about 200 protesters in London's Parliament Square for alleged offences including breach of Covid-19 regulations, Public Order Act offences and assaulting an emergency worker.

Demonstrators gathered at Parliament Square in central London before marching down Whitehall.
Demonstrators gathered at Parliament Square in central London before marching down Whitehall. Picture: PA

Commissioner Taylor added: “With infection rates rising rapidly across the capital, we all need to play our part in preventing the spread of the virus.

“This is the final weekend before Christmas, so now is not the time for complacency. I know Londoners know what they should and should not be doing and I would urge everyone to act sensibly and do their part to keep our city safe.

Read more: Met Police urge public to 'act sensibly and do their part' ahead of Christmas

“Sticking to the guidelines put in place to keep us all safe and well is now more important than ever.

“This weekend we will ensure we deal with the activity of a few so as not to expose our communities at even greater risk during this pandemic.”

The cathedral (including the shop) will close early for general visiting at 1pm tomorrow, Evening Prayer will take place at 1pm. The restaurant will be closed all day. Apologies for any inconvenience caused.

Posted by Truro Cathedral on Friday, December 18, 2020

A protest is also expected from 1.30pm on Saturday at Truro Cathedral in Cornwall, despite the county being in Tier 1.

The cathedral announced on Facebook that they would be closing early on Saturday, as anti-lockdown demonstrators, including Piers Corbyn, are expected to descend on the location.