Protests

“Your Obedience Is Prolonging This Nightmare”: Protesters March in London against Delay to “Freedom Day”

Protesters have gathered in London today to demonstrate against the Government’s delay to the lifting of lockdown restrictions. People held signs reading “Lockdown is a crime against humanity” and “Your obedience is prolonging this nightmare”. Eight arrests have been made at the protest, according to the Metropolitan Police.

The MailOnline has more.

Maskless anti-vaccine and anti-lockdown protesters have clashed with police in central London as they demonstrate against the delay of “Freedom Day” by blocking roads and hugging strangers in defiance of Covid rules…

Protestors offering “free hugs” and demanding an end to all Covid restrictions held signs reading “your obedience is prolonging this nightmare” and “our kids aren’t lab rats” as they marched through the streets…

Loud horns blown by the protestors were seen to spook a group of half-a-dozen police horses who had been drafted in to help control the crowd in Parliament Square.

The protest comes as Boris Johnson seemed to dismiss the prospect of easing the remaining coronavirus rules early, as he refused to rule out future lockdowns. He warned the nation should brace for a ‘rough winter’ whilst visiting a laboratory in Hertfordshire today.

The Prime Minister has delayed ‘Freedom Day’ by four weeks to July 19th – but a two-week review will take place on July 5th to see if the return to normal can be moved forward. Mr Johnson said ‘Delta’ variant cases, hospitalisations and admissions to intensive care are still rising and the country must therefore be ‘cautious’.

Worth reading in full.

Thousands “Unite for Freedom” in London

Unlike the last anti-lockdown protest, Saturday’s Unite for Freedom rally has actually received some media coverage. This has, of course, focussed on anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists. Protesters held signs reading: “My body, my choice”, “we do not consent” and “you have no power over us”. The Met, concerned also about a protest against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill taking place at the same time, “urged people to comply with the restrictions that apply to large gatherings”.

The MailOnline has more (although it smeared the protestors as anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists in its headline).

[Those gathered] protested [in part] against the idea of vaccine passports.

It is thought many of the crowd travelled from outside of the capital to take part in the gathering. 

Several people set off smoke bombs and one launched a firework. 

One man, who did not give his name, told the PA news agency he had come to the capital “because I want to be free and I want you to be free and the Government are lying to us”.

Another said she had attended because the press “are lying to us”.

By lunchtime, the crowd had started to disperse and head to Whitehall, with some heading to Trafalgar Square. 

Pictures showed a London bus covered in anti-vaccination stickers.  

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The Guardian actually ran a fairly balanced report about the occupation of Westfield by the protestors. The march, which began in Parliament Square, snaked all the way to Shepherd’s Bush and beyond to Acton.

Hundreds of anti-vaccine passport protesters invaded the Westfield shopping centre in Shepherd’s Bush on Saturday evening at the culmination of a mass march that drew many thousands and snaked miles through central and west London.

There were tussles with police who tried to block access through one entrance to the shopping centre at about 6pm, before protesters quickly realised that another door just yards away was unguarded.

Hundreds made it into the shopping centre where they stayed for about half an hour chanting “no more lockdowns” and “take your freedom back” before they were cleared by police with batons drawn, although without scenes of violence.

Worth reading in full.

CPS Admits That “All Offences Charged Under the Coronavirus Act Were Incorrectly Charged”

A Freedom of Information request has confirmed that zero prosecutions have been made successfully under the Coronavirus Act. The request asked: “Since its inception – how many prosecutions have been made successfully under Coronavirus Act?” The response, given on Monday by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), reads as follows:

Since the CPS started its review on finalised cases charged under the Coronavirus Act 2020 (the Act) in April 2020 and up until February 2021, we found that all offences charged under the Act were incorrectly charged, and therefore discontinued because there was insufficient evidence to prove the offences under the Act. There were no cases where a suspect was convicted under the Act as of February 2021.

In April, the Independent reported on the “embarrassment” caused to the justice system by incorrect prosecutions made under the Coronavirus Act and the Health Protection Regulations.

Every one of the 232 prosecutions brought under the Coronavirus Act was incorrect, with its misuse described as an “embarrassment” to the justice system. [The figure will, of course, have gotten much higher.]

A further 127 wrongful charges were brought under the Health Protection Regulations, which were created to enforce the first nationwide lockdown in March 2020 and have been changed numerous times for different restrictions.

They represent around 12% of prosecutions under the law, which is more commonly enforced by police using fines…

The Liberty human rights group called for the Government to support people to follow health guidance rather than having a “relentless focus on enforcement”…

[Director Gracie Bradley said:] “It’s… impossible to know how many unlawful fines have already been paid by people too afraid to challenge them – the Government must urgently introduce a right to appeal fines. Frequent and high-profile instances of arbitrary and wrongful enforcement have fanned the flames of mistrust.”

The CPS figures only cover finalised cases in England and Wales, and more prosecutions are currently progressing through the courts.

Reports issued by parliament’s Home Affairs Committee and Joint Committee on Human Rights had called for mistakes by police to stop in April, warning of the potential for miscarriages of justice and punishment “without any legal basis”.

MPs said that some police officers appeared to be enforcing Government guidance rather than the law, and that differences between the two were causing confusion among the public and law enforcement…

The vast majority of wrongful prosecutions were brought by police and withdrawn by the CPS before people were convicted, but 56 cases had to be returned to court to be quashed.

They include a woman who was fined £660 for a crime she had not committed, five days after the Coronavirus Act became law last March.

It gives police the power to direct “potentially infectious persons” to a place suitable for screening and assessment, and take them by force if they refuse.

The law makes it a criminal offence punishable by a fine of up to £1,000 to refuse a direction, escape or provide false information.

Isn’t it about time the Act was repealed?

The Independent report is worth reading in full.

Germany’s Domestic Spy Agency Monitoring Anti-Lockdown Activists for Suspected Sedition

German authorities are not taking criticism of the Government’s handling of Covid lightly. On Tuesday, we covered the raiding of the house, office and car of a Weimar judge who earlier this month ruled against the wearing of face masks in schools. Now, reports have emerged that the country’s domestic spy agency is monitoring anti-lockdown activists for suspected sedition. Reuters has the story.

Germany’s domestic spy agency is monitoring individuals who have joined anti-lockdown protests to decide if their rejection of Government curbs amounts to subversion and incitement to violence.

The surveillance includes some members of the “Querdenker” or “Lateral Thinkers” movement, which has been organising increasingly violent protests against coronavirus lockdowns and includes conspiracy theorists and suspected far-right extremists, a spokeswoman for the BfV spy agency said.

The movement started with small demonstrations in the southern city of Stuttgart last year but has grown in scope and reach, drawing to its protests Germans from all walks of life frustrated with lockdowns in place since November.

Authorities fear that far-right extremists and conspiracy theorists who either deny the existence of Covid or downplay its threat to public health are exploiting lockdown frustrations to stir anger against politicians and state institutions five months before a general election…

Domestic spies fear far-right extremists could seek to boost anger against state institutions such as the police after parliament gave temporary powers this month to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Government to enforce lockdowns in areas with high infection rates.

The new powers have drawn fierce criticism from opposition parties, including the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, whose leaders have joined anti-lockdown protests.

The BKA federal police agency has told parliament that the names of lawmakers who voted for the amendments figured in an online document titled, “Death list of German politicians”, while adding that they were in no imminent danger.

A spokeswoman for the BfV said: “Organisers of demonstrations which are mainly led by protagonists of the Querdenker movement have an agenda that goes beyond protesting against the state’s measures against the coronavirus.” The Interior Minister of the eastern state of Thuringia added that attacks made against the police demonstrate the extent of the radicalisation among anti-lockdown protesters.

Worth reading in full.

Thousands of People “Unite for Freedom” in London

Thousands of people gathered in London today in opposition to lockdown and to the idea of vaccine passports. Banners held by those in the “Unite for Freedom” protest read “no new normal”, “no health passport” and much more. Footage from the march gives an idea of the sheer number of people who attended.

The Mail has more.

TV presenter Beverly Turner has joined thousands of activists marching through central London in a “Unite for Freedom” protest to demand a ban on vaccine passports.

Demonstrators, also including London Mayor candidates Piers Corbyn and Laurence Fox, made their way through the capital earlier today as they waved banners and placards daubed with a range of slogans including “no new normal” and “no health passport”.

The crowds did not appear to be adhering to social distancing guidelines and were not wearing face masks.

The protest comes amid discussions over “Covid-status certificates” being considered by ministers… despite concerns from Boris Johnson’s own MPs that they will be “intrusive, costly and unnecessary”. 

Earlier this month, Britain’s equalities watchdog warned the Government that vaccine passports could be unlawful, create a “two-tier society” and discriminate against migrants, ethnic minorities and the poor.

The supporters of the movement are protesting against new Covid measures including what they call “coerced vaccinations”…

The Metropolitan Police took to Twitter earlier in the day with a series of posts that read: “We have a policing operation in central London today as a result of a number of demonstrations. 

“Anyone coming into London for a protest must make sure their gathering is lawful, with a risk assessment carried out by the organiser…

“Officers are on site and are engaging with those taking part.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Hector Drummond has questioned the lack of media coverage of the protest in London, accusing the BBC of “blatant politicisation”.

Thousands Protest Against Lockdown in London

13 people have been arrested at a protest in London in which thousands marched against the Government’s lockdown. The Guardian has the story.

Thousands marched under a heavy police presence through central London to protest against lockdown on Saturday, with at least 13 arrested.

Demonstrators gathered at Speakers’ Corner by Hyde Park at about midday, where anti-lockdown figurehead Piers Corbyn gave a speech saying he would “never take a vaccine” and falsely claiming that the scale of deaths from Covid was not dissimilar to those from flu each year.

As police surrounded him and detained a handful [sic] people as they ordered demonstrators to disperse, the crowd then marched out of the park and through London from Marble Arch. 

The march came as 62 MPs and peers wrote to the home secretary on Friday saying that allowing the police to criminalise people for protesting was “not acceptable and is arguably not lawful”, in a letter coordinated by Liberty and Big Brother Watch.

They said the right to protest was enshrined in human rights law, amid growing scrutiny of police tactics after officers forcibly dispersed demonstrators at a vigil for Sarah Everard last week.

The specific exemption to coronavirus regulations in England allowing the right to protest was removed in November, but some legal experts have said it remains a “reasonable excuse” for leaving home. It is widely accepted that transmission of coronavirus is far less likely outdoors.

At Saturday’s demonstration, police appeared to apprehend relatively small numbers of people throughout the afternoon as a helicopter hovered above. But at about 4pm officers began stepping in to separate crowds and continued to urge people to disperse, detaining some. The Metropolitan police said there were 13 confirmed arrests by around that time. Scenes back at Speaker’s Corner at 5pm were increasingly fractious.

Other protests were expected to take place elsewhere in the UK.

The BBC notes that “Scotland Yard said the number of people attending Saturday’s demonstrations exceeded expectations”.

Meanwhile, in Switzerland thousands (or, as the Guardian put it, “several“!) formed a “silent protest” against lockdown in the small northern town of Liestal.

The Guardian’s report is worth reading in full.

What Happened to the Good Old British Bobby?

We’re publishing an original piece today by James Moreton Wakeley, a former parliamentary researcher with a PhD in History from Oxford who wrote the recent essay entitled, “The Failure of the Political Class“. This one is a reflection on the events of Saturday evening when Metropolitan Police officers employed strong-arm tactics to disperse the Sarah Everard vigil on Clapham Common. As James points out, George Orwell praised the British police for being quite unlike the highly-politicised and faction-riven police forces of Republican Spain, or other such continental gendarmeries. A British police officer wasn’t someone to be feared, but, rather, someone to be turned to for help.

What went wrong? Here is an extract:

It is perhaps unsurprising that pictures of young women being dragged around and pushed to the floor by often male police officers has caused such outrage. Whatever one’s private thoughts on how society should respond to such bitter, senseless, and cruel tragedies as the murder of a young woman, it is impossible not be moved by scenes of the brutal treatment meted out to those who felt a deep need to commemorate a girl with whose situation they felt such a connection. As the editor of this website has already pointed-out, however, the Metropolitan Police’s behaviour is wholly unsurprising in the context of the past year, their relative temerity in the face of last summer’s ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests notwithstanding.

Other police forces, in other parts of the country, have also made a habit of over-enforcing the Government’s poorly-written and confusing Lockdown measures, damaging trust in the fairness and integrity of British policing. The whole country, for example, is familiar with the case of the Peppermint Tea Two, who were farcically ambushed by a gang of policemen when out walking a short distance from their homes and fined for apparently breaking the ‘spirit’ of the Lockdown restrictions rather than the letter. Public pressure forced Derbyshire Police to rescind the fines and to apologise.

This, however, was but one instance of a wider trend. Individual police officers and commanders appear to have been routinely over-interpreting their powers and capriciously fining people whose behaviour has been in line with the law. Figures from the end of last year show that three forces, Merseyside, Staffordshire, and Derbyshire, were forced to cancel almost half of the fines they had by then levied. According to the Crown Prosecution Service, of the 14 cases brought to court under the Coronavirus Act this January, 10 have had to have been withdrawn. The number of fines levied by different forces across the country varies enormously, suggesting that the way in which the law is understood and enforced is more postcode lottery than clear, objective exercise.

Worth reading in full.

What Happened to the Good Old British Bobby?

by James Moreton Wakeley

One of the most sublime hymns to England is to be found at the end of George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia. Returning from the bitter battles of the Spanish Civil War, wounded in the neck, and having narrowly avoided further bodily harm in the bloodily fratricidal politics of the doomed Spanish Republic, Orwell looks forward to returning to a land at peace. To an idyll of “railway-cuttings smothered in wild flowers” and “slow-moving streams bordered by willows”, inhabited by a gentle folk wearing bowler hats whose streets are adorned with “posters telling of cricket matches and Royal weddings”.

Fighting in the ranks of an international socialist movement though Orwell was, Homage to Catalonia is replete with such heartfelt musings on England. First among such sentiments is the notion that the police are nothing to be feared. Unlike the highly-politicised and faction-riven police forces of Republican Spain, or other such continental gendarmeries, Orwell saw the British bobby as a cheery friend of the honest citizen, who polices with consent rather than through force, and who would only go so far to arrest someone if they had, or were strongly suspected to have, broken the law.

Saturday night’s footage from the vigil held in honour of Sarah Everard makes this image as remote from our age as the rest of Orwell’s nostalgic paean. We have certainly awoken from the “deep, deep sleep of England”.

It is perhaps unsurprising that pictures of young women being dragged around and pushed to the floor by often male police officers has caused such outrage. Whatever one’s private thoughts on how society should respond to such bitter, senseless, and cruel tragedies as the murder of a young woman, it is impossible not be moved by scenes of the brutal treatment meted out to those who felt a deep need to commemorate a girl with whose situation they felt such a connection. As the editor of this website has already pointed-out, however, the Metropolitan Police’s behaviour is wholly unsurprising in the context of the past year, their relative temerity in the face of last summer’s ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests notwithstanding.

Other police forces, in other parts of the country, have also made a habit of over-enforcing the Government’s poorly-written and confusing Lockdown measures, damaging trust in the fairness and integrity of British policing. The whole country, for example, is familiar with the case of the Peppermint Tea Two, who were farcically ambushed by a gang of policemen when out walking a short distance from their homes and fined for apparently breaking the ‘spirit’ of the Lockdown restrictions rather than the letter. Public pressure forced Derbyshire Police to rescind the fines and to apologise. 

This, however, was but one instance of a wider trend. Individual police officers and commanders appear to have been routinely over-interpreting their powers and capriciously fining people whose behaviour has been in line with the law. Figures from the end of last year show that three forces, Merseyside, Staffordshire, and Derbyshire, were forced to cancel almost half of the fines they had by then levied. According to the Crown Prosecution Service, of the 14 cases brought to court under the Coronavirus Act this January, 10 have had to have been withdrawn. The number of fines levied by different forces across the country varies enormously, suggesting that the way in which the law is understood and enforced is more postcode lottery than clear, objective exercise. 

Recent court rulings have also demonstrated that, contrary to a growing tendency of the police to exhibit a previously alien ‘papers, please’ culture, there is in fact no legal duty on those suspected of a breach of COVID regulations to supply an officer with their name and address. All too often, the threat and practice of arrest – physical restraint and hand-cuffing – appears to have been used to intimidate people into supplying such personal details. The well-publicised account of one such case also tells how officers threatened to use scissors to begin a forced strip-search: all for the alleged crime of going for a household walk on a beach. Finding oneself at the whim of uniformed individuals, who feel free to use force to get what they want, is the stuff of a police state. 

In many respects, however, the police are not actually to blame. There have definitely been instances of flagrantly unprofessional and arrogant behaviour by individual police officers, for which constabularies have duly apologised after their embarrassment on social media. Many recent examples of overreach, however, seem to have been a result of different understandings of the word ‘local,’ which government did not define in the Lockdown rules. Ministers, therefore, have simply abandoned the police to arbitrariness. 

The Government’s twin embrace of trivial restrictions and avoidance of detail has gone hand-in-hand with a tendency of some ministers to eschew the convention of commenting on operational police matters and to voice support for aggressive and incorrect behaviour. Matt Hancock, for instance, “absolutely backed” Derbyshire Police’s treatment of the peppermint tea girls, despite the fact that the police’s overreach was plainly evident at the time he made those comments. Home Secretary Priti Patel, moreover, has advocated enforcement over engagement, and led a politically-seductive witch-hunt against Instagram Influencers whose photographs from Dubai were somewhat magically and mysteriously causing COVID to spread in England. Especially at a time when the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Lord Chancellor and Minister for Justice has made a habit of hounding Government critics online, ministerial comments such as the above risk amounting to political pressure on the police.

These comments are, alas, hardly out of keeping in a milieu that has seen government public information broadcasts become little more than Lockdown propaganda. Truth, that lodestar of what amounts to information versus disinformation, has been a casualty: the Advertising Standards Agency had to step-in to stop the state broadcasting falsehoods about joggers spreading COVID, for example. This willingness to lie was the inevitable result of a conscious decision to stoke fear to win compliance with Lockdown measures, a strategy of emotional attack demanding exaggeration, doom-laden language and imagery, and the selective use of data. 

The regular Downing St briefings, moreover, ensure that such sinister messaging reaches households to a previously unknown degree. Combined with other advertisements advocating the deeply-questionable and hotly-debated efficacy of Lockdown, the state has been able to influence perceptions and to mobilise obedience in a manner that is not only wholly unprecedented, but that also strikes at the heart of what we formerly accepted as the right way for government to behave. Justifying such supreme, barely accountable authority on the basis of public safety is taken from the textbook of tyrants.           

It is astounding, therefore, to see figures like Patel demand a review into the Metropolitan Police’s behaviour at the Sarah Everard vigil. The chutzpah and hypocrisy of so many politicians and commentators who have supported and legislated for Lockdown only to condemn what it means speaks to the sheer superficiality of the political class and their failure to think beyond the media storm. The police were merely doing what their political masters have asked them to do. Indeed, unlike in the situations underlying the litany of rescinded fines, Dame Cressida Dick’s embattled force were probably on firmer legal ground: an example, if any were needed, on how unjust, inhumane, and immoral the Lockdown laws are.

What, then, can be done? The next few weeks may prove crucial to stopping the spread of Lockdown and the kind of authoritarian measures it means. The government will have to extend the powers it gave itself to shut down the country for another six months before the end of March, and it is facing court action to open hospitality sooner than it intends. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which will extend the powers of the police to stop protests, is due to come before the House of Commons this week. Tragic chance means that an emotive, visually shocking demonstration of the perversity of Lockdown – police brutality in an area where COVID cases are down 97% since the recorded January peak, at the kind of outside event now known to have all but no COVID risk whatsoever, in which members of the public were manhandled, restrained, and handcuffed “for their own safety” – has coincided with a time at which parliamentarians can clip the wings of the government. 

There already appears to be momentum behind a backbench revolt on the Government side of the House and Labour – in a typically opportunistic move belying a deeper lack of principle – are set to vote against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. In past correspondence with my local MP, a Government loyalist, she was entirely dismissive of the negative ramifications of Lockdown, for overall health, the economy, as well as for civil liberties. To apply the principle of charity, I imagine that she has simply been ignorant and unthinking rather than malign. She now has even less of an excuse and I shall be writing to her again. From my experience, even low double-digit figures of personally-crafted letters can cause consternation in some parliamentary offices, giving an MP the excuse that one suspects they needed to vote a certain way anyway. If the pro-Lockdown politicians lining-up to criticise the police really care about what took place last night, let them wake-up to what Lockdown means, having seen what strikes them as new evidence, and do something about it.

We may never drift into Orwell’s “deep, deep sleep of England” again, but at least we can try to wake up from the nightmare of Lockdown.   

Dr James Moreton Wakeley is a former parliamentary researcher with a PhD in History from Oxford.