Trafalgar Square: 32 arrested after 'hostile and violent' anti-vaxxer protest

20 September 2020, 07:26

Police made 32 arrests as violent scuffles broke out
Police made 32 arrests as violent scuffles broke out. Picture: PA

By Ewan Somerville

More than 30 people have been arrested after violent scuffles erupted between protesters and police at a large anti-vaccine, anti-lockdown protest in central London.

Scores of "anti-vaxxer" demonstrators descended on Trafalgar Square for the “Resist And Act For Freedom” protest on Saturday afternoon. 

Skirmishes broke out with officers as reinforcements mounted on horseback and in riot gear tried to break up crowds forming human blockades to avoid arrest. 

Officers were pushed back at least three times as they tried to clear the rally, before dispersing them around 5pm, and warned activists to leave "immediately" or face arrest.

At least one protester was seen with a bloodied head while another was seen receiving medical attention on the ground, but the London Ambulance Service did not immediately have information on any injuries. Two officers suffered minor injuries, police said.

Scotland Yard said 32 people were arrested, adding the large crowds were “putting themselves and others at risk”.

Superintendent Emma Richards said: “The amount of hostility shown towards officers, who were simply there to keep people safe, is unacceptable."

Two police officers suffered minor injuries
Two police officers suffered minor injuries. Picture: PA
Hundreds have gathered in Trafalgar Square
Hundreds have gathered in Trafalgar Square. Picture: PA

It came hours after Mayor of London Sadiq Khan warned it was “increasingly likely” local lockdown curbs would be needed in the capital, adding he was “extremely concerned” about the rate of transmission in the capital.

The number of cases per 100,000 people over seven days is reported to have increased in London from 18.8 to around 25.

Police said they had to take “enforcement action to disperse” the crowds after officers were met with “hostility” and “violence” from some demonstrators.

The protest is the latest in a series of conspiracy-driven anti-lockdown rallies across Britain in recent weeks, as the looming second wave of Covid-19 sees strict curbs on daily life gradually return. 

Traffic around Trafalgar Square came to a halt during the demonstration, with one protester apparently seen spitting through the open window of a taxi whose driver had beeped the horn in frustration.

Police have told the protesters to leave Trafalgar Square
Police have told the protesters to leave Trafalgar Square. Picture: PA
Scuffles broke out between protesters and officers
Scuffles broke out between protesters and officers. Picture: PA

Organisers sold T-shirts pushing 5G conspiracy theories and advocating the legalisation of cannabis, with banners calling for Government scientific advisers to be sacked and declaring Covid-19 a “hoax”.

Addressing the crowd to huge cheers, organiser Kate Shemirani said: “We are the resistance.”

The protest was advertised with an image showing a vaccine bottle and urging people to “Come together, resist and act.”

One speaker at the rally, Professor Dolores Cahill of University College Dublin (UCD), claimed that the coronavirus vaccine will “make people sick”, an unproven view that conflicts with mainstream scientific opinion. 

The UCD has previously disassociated itself from views on Covid-19 aired by Prof Cahill, who also chairs the Eurosceptic Irish Freedom Party, the Irish Times reported.

Vaccines are the most effective way to prevent infectious disease and have virtually eradicated smallpox, polio and tetanus in the UK, the NHS says.

But if people stop getting vaccinated then diseases can quickly spread again, it said, pointing to a spike in measles and mumps between 2016 and 2018.

The World Health Organisation says immunisation prevents two to three million deaths per year.