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Sajid Javid hits out at 'idiot' anti-vaxxers protesting outside schools
25 October 2021, 16:15 | Updated: 26 October 2021, 08:11
The Health Secretary lashed out at "idiots" who mount anti-vaccine protests outside schools, after three children were injured in clashes.
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He said it was "heartbreaking" to see children being hurt and said anti-vaccine protests were becoming "a growing problem as time goes by."
He added: "If you've injured children, that is a criminal act and I hope in that case police are able to track those people down."
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Downing Street said it was "never acceptable for anyone to pressurise or intimidate pupils, teachers or the wider school community".
The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "Protesters engaging in this type of behaviour should immediately stop."
Home Secretary Priti Patel has made clear that police will have the "powers and resources they need" to deal with the issue, the spokesman added.
Labour has called for councils to be able to use exclusion orders to prevent harassment of staff and pupils by anti-vaxxers outside schools.
Public spaces protection orders (PSPOs) can be used to disperse people from a public area and have previously been used to move on protesters outside abortion clinics, or to allow police to confiscate alcohol in certain spaces.
But gaining permission to impose one takes time and significant consultation, and Labour is calling for an expedited process in cases of preventing harassment and intimidation of children outside schools as long as it is agreed to by the school, the leader of the local council, and the local police chief constable.
Mr Javid said those measures could be an option for dealing with the problem.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said it was "sickening" that those against vaccinations are demonstrating at school gates, and said they were spreading "dangerous misinformation".
The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) revealed earlier this month that most of the schools surveyed by the union - 79 per cent - have been targeted by anti-vaxxers.
It comes after they said that, out of 526 responses from schools eligible for the Covid vaccination programme for 12 to 15-year olds, 13 per cent had reported seeing protestors immediately outside the school premises, and 20 per cent reported demonstrators in the local area.
And 18 schools said protesters had gained access and protested inside the school premises, with 20 saying they had received communications threatening physical harm to staff.
Most of the harassment by anti-vaxxers reported to ASCL had been through emails threatening legal action, though the union said staff had been threatened with physical harm while some protesters had gained access to school sites.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders' union NAHT, said there was "no place" for such protests outside schools.
"No child should be made to feel scared or intimidated on their journey to and from school," he said.
"Pupils have endured enough disruption to their education in recent months, so there is absolutely no place for angry protests outside school gates."
He added: "We would urge anti-vaccination campaigners to behave more responsibly and to carefully consider the impact their actions are having on children."