Priti Patel vows 'justice will follow' for the protesters who clashed with police

8 June 2020, 18:29

Priti Patel has vowed “justice will follow” for the protesters who clashed with police
Priti Patel has vowed “justice will follow” for the protesters who clashed with police. Picture: PA

By Ewan Somerville

The Home Secretary has vowed that “justice will follow” for the protesters who clashed with police during the London Black Lives Matter protests at the weekend.

Acknowledging that the majority of protests “were peaceful”, Priti Patel said “I hear you”, but followed Boris Johnson in saying they had been “subverted by thuggery”.

Thousands descended on the capital for anti-racism rallies and marches at the weekend as 137,500 flocked to the streets for 200 demonstrations across the UK over the death of George Floyd, despite pleas to stay away and follow lockdown rules.

Mr Floyd, 46, an unarmed African American man, died in police custody after a white officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes in Minneapolis, after arresting him for allegedly using a fake $20 note.

While the protests were largely peaceful, fierce skirmishes erupted in Whitehall between activists and riot police on Saturday and Sunday night which left 35 Met officers injured.

Thousands took to the streets of London today
Thousands took to the streets of London today. Picture: PA

One officer was hospitalised and needed surgery after her horse bolted while flares, missiles and fireworks were thrown outside Downing Street on Saturday night.

On Sunday, graffiti was scrawled on the statue of Sir Winston Churchill in Parliament Square, a protester tried to light a flag at the Cenotaph, and in Bristol the bronze memorial to slave trader Edward Colston was toppled and dumped into the harbour.

Announcing 135 people had been arrested in connection with the “shameful” violence by Monday morning, Ms Patel said in the Commons: “As the ugly tally of officer assaults show, some protesters regrettably turned to violence and abusive behaviour at the weekend. This hooliganism is utterly indefensible. There is no justification for it.

“There is no excuse for pelting flares at brave officers, throwing bikes at police horses, attempting to disrespect the Cenotaph or vandalising the statue of Winston Churchill, one of the greatest protectors of our freedoms who has ever lived.

READ MORE: Key moments from a weekend of protests

READ MORE: 36 people arrested in London during Sunday's Black Lives Matter protests

“It’s not for mobs to tear down statues and cause criminal damage in our streets, and it is not acceptable for thugs to racially abuse black police officers for doing their jobs.”

She added: “To the criminal minority who have subverted this cause with their thuggery, I simply say this – your behaviour is shameful and you will face justice.”

In Bristol, a statue honouring Edward Colston, the 17th century slave trader, was toppled by protesters on Sunday who then threw it in a nearby harbour, while the memorial to wartime PM Winston Churchill in Westminster was daubed with “was a racist” graffiti.

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, said the statue "should have been brought down properly with consent" and suggested it would have been better to put it in a museum.

Speaking to LBC this morning, he said: "This was a man who was responsible for 100,000 people being moved from Africa to the Caribbean as slaves, including women and children, who were branded on their chests with the name of the company that he ran.

"Of the 100,000 people, 20,000 died en route and they were chucked in the sea. He should not be in a statue in Bristol or anywhere else, he should be in a museum."

Ms Patel said the worst violence occurred on Saturday evening in London, telling MPs: “At least 35 officers have now been injured during the protests in the capital. I salute their bravery and wish them a swift recovery. The thugs and criminals responsible are already being brought to justice.”

Speaking in the Commons, she added: “As of this morning, the total number of arrests stood at 135.”

But Chancellor Rishi Sunak struck a more personal note on Monday afternoon, with a statement saying: “As a British Asian, of course I know that racism exists in this country”.

He said the country today is “far more inclusive and fairer than at any point in its history” and said “whilst our progress feels slow, I promise you it is permanent”.

He acknowledged: “I know people are angry and frustrated. They want to see, and feel, change. But a better society doesn’t happen overnight - like all great acts of creation, it happens slowly, and depends on the cooperation of each of us toward that common goal.”

It came as the shadow justice secretary David Lammy accused Health Secretary Matt Hancock of “real ignorance” after he insisted the UK was “one of the most tolerant and open societies in the world” and not racist.

"But I think there is always more that can and must be done, especially to empower people to achieve their potential,” Mr Hancock added.