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London anti-lockdown protesters clash with police

Thousands marched from Hyde Park to Oxford Street to protest lockdown restrictions, almost a year after they were first introduced (Picture: LNP/ Getty/ Reuters)

Police have again cracked down on protests in London amid an ongoing row over whether people should be allowed to demonstrate during the pandemic.

Anti-lockdown protesters clashed with police officers after ignoring warnings about breaking Covid restrictions in Hyde Park.

The mostly maskless protesters – led by Piers Corbyn and actor Laurence Fox – marched through London to call for an end to the restrictions which have largely been in place for almost a year.

But several were pictured being arrested after they failed to disperse despite several police warnings.

It marks the end of a week in which debates over the right to protest has been centre-stage as a controversial policing bill passed through the commons.

The Met were widely criticsed for the way they handled the unofficial Sarah Everard memorial vigil in Clapham Common last weekend.

Four were arrested as numbers gathering to pay their respects swelled while officers were accused of manhandling women.

Then, amid further protests, MPs passed the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill on Tuesday, handing scores of extra powers to forces which will allow them to clampdown on protests.

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Actor Laurence Fox joins demonstrators on Park Lane during an anti-lockdown protest in central London.

Actor Laurence Fox joins demonstrators on Park Lane (Picture: London News Pictures)
Several people have been arrested (Picture: Getty Images)
Thousands ignored stay-at-home warnings (Picture: Reuters)
Police had urged people to stay away (Picture: Getty)
Debates over whether people should be allowed to protest during the pandemic have intensified this week (Picture: Reuters)

In London, the Met had previously warned groups planning to travel to the capital to stay away.

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.’

The Government is coming under renewed pressure to ease coronavirus lockdown restrictions to allow protests to go ahead.

The protests were called to mark a year since lockdown began (Picture: Getty)
The mostly maskless crowd called for an end to restrictions (Picture: Getty)
The Government is under pressure to allow protests again (Picture: Getty)
Police said enforcement was a last resort (Picture: Reuters)

More than 60 MPs and peers have signed a letter warning that allowing the police to criminalise people for protesting is ‘is not acceptable and is arguably not lawful’.

The letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel and Health Secretary Matt Hancock was co-ordinated by Liberty and Big Brother Watch.

Signatories include the Tory MPs Sir Charles Walker, Steve Baker, Sir Christopher Chope and Sir Desmond Swayne and the Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey.

Sam Grant, head of policy and campaigns at Liberty, said: ‘In a healthy democracy, protest is a critical way we can fight for what we believe in.

Anti-lockdown protests have regularly taken place in London since last summer (Picture: Getty)
Some voiced doubts over the vaccine (Picture: EPA)
It’s not yet known how many people have been arrested (Picture: Getty)
The Government’s protest ban has been called ‘unacceptable’ (Picture: Reuters)
The London protests came a week after a Clapham Common vigil descended into chaos (Picture: LNP)

‘The Government’s current quasi-ban on protest is completely unacceptable. Last week, the police conceded protest is not banned under the lockdown regulations, but used them to threaten then arrest demonstrators anyway.

‘The Home Secretary must immediately issue guidance to all police forces to ensure socially distanced protests can go ahead and create an explicit exemption for protest in the current regulations.’

Big Brother Watch director Silkie Carlo said: ‘A country cannot be described as a democracy if people do not have the freedom to protest.

Anti-lockdown protesters at the start of the march in Hyde Park (Picture: Reuters)
The protesters claimed lockdown is ‘destroying lives# (Picture: Getty)
A woman holds a sign stating: ‘fear Westmonster, not the virus’ (Picture: PA)

‘The harrowing scenes of police officers using force against women at Clapham Common recently were avoidable and wrong.

‘Over the past week, many more demonstrators and even legal observers have been arrested or fined.

‘This stain on our democracy is a direct consequence of this Government’s disrespect for the most basic of British democratic freedoms.’

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at webnews@metro.co.uk.

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