Police warn protesters to 'stay away' or risk fines ahead of planned action in London

19 March 2021, 12:35 | Updated: 19 March 2021, 12:46

The Metropolitan Police have issued a statement ahead of planned demonstrations in London this weekend
The Metropolitan Police have issued a statement ahead of planned demonstrations in London this weekend. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

The Metropolitan Police have warned protesters ahead of planned demonstrations in London this weekend, saying they should "stay away" or risk fines and arrest.

The Metropolitan police have said they are aware a number of protests are being organised for this weekend in central London, including a planned ‘Freedom Day’ protest.

The force has released a statement warning people to stay away or risk a fine or arrest.

The statement explained that current government legislation "makes gatherings in groups of more than two people unlawful, unless exemptions apply", and "gathering for the purpose of a protest is not an exception under the Covid-19 regulations."

"The right to protest must be balanced against the rights of others and the protection of public health. In the interests of public health, the Met is telling people not to attend central London in order to gather to protest," the Met said.

The force also explained that there will be increased officer presence in the capital, and they will be engaging with people who break the rules.

"By gathering in large numbers, there is a risk of spreading the virus that has claimed so many lives," it warned.

"Those gathering will be encouraged to return home, if they do not, they face necessary and proportionate enforcement action. This could be a fixed penalty notice, or arrest."

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Laurence Taylor, said: “The Met is committed to working with groups who wish to assemble to protest or for other purposes. But these are not normal times.

"Within the last few weeks, London has seen high infection rates with many people in hospital because of coronavirus.

"Given the very real threat to public health, it is vital we all take action to avoid situations where the virus can easily spread.

“People who gather as part of the protest risk the health of Londoners. That is why we have a policing plan in place to disperse crowds and where necessary, take proportionate enforcement action.

“This will not just be organisers of the protests but participants too – by now everyone knows their part to play in stopping the spread of the virus and thousands have sacrificed much over the last 12 months to do so.

“We do not want to be in a position where enforcement is necessary – we would rather our officers be in London’s communities, tackling local issues. That is why I would urge people to reconsider joining a protest and stay at home.”

It comes after Met police officers received widespread condemnation into how they policed a vigil held for Sarah Everard last week.

In ugly scenes last weekend, officers clashed with crowds gathered to remember Ms Everard, with further protests taking place in central London on Sunday and Monday against police actions.

Following the vigil, there were calls for Cressida Dick to resign, although she confirmed she would not be.

Dame Cressida Dick has ruled out resigning after last weekend's vigil ended in arrests and accusations of "manhandling" by police officers.

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner told reporters she was "appalled" at what happened to Sarah Everard but she would not consider her position over clashes between officers and mourners.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has confirmed he has since requested two watchdogs look into how the event in south London was handled.

Speaking to James O'Brien during Speak to Sadiq on LBC, the Mayor was asked "what went wrong" at the vigil on Saturday.

Mr Khan said he was waiting for findings on reports into the incident, and went on to say that Dame Cressida "has my confidence and support but that doesn't mean it's always going to be 100 per cent," and reiterated his position that the vigil was not properly policed.

Sadiq Khan explained: "The vigil was being organised not just by reclaim these streets but by women and girls and allies across London who wanted to remember Sarah and pay their respects.

"But also to shine a light on the serious issue of male violence against women and girls.

"A vigil is different from a protest, and I was clear before the vigil that the government and the police should work with organisers to ensure it could happen in a safe, lawful and peaceful way.

"And I was reassured by the Met Police service that the vigil would be policed sensitively.

"To be honest, I was surprised and angry at what I saw on Saturday night. It wasn't policed properly, and that is why i have asked two independent watchdogs to look into it."