Black Lives Matter protest called off over far-right fears

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Sejal Karia

Black Lives Matter organisers have cancelled a Saturday protest in London over fears it would be hijacked by far-right groups, while a similar event on Friday afternoon went ahead.

Former English Defence League (EDL) leader Tommy Robinson has expressed support for calls by the Democratic Football Lads Alliance for people to travel to the capital to protect monuments.

A protective box has been erected around the statue of Sir Winston Churchill in Parliament Square, while scaffolding and boards were put up around the Cenotaph after the monuments were targeted last weekend.

The protests, sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, saw clashes between protesters and police in London, while in Bristol a statue of Edward Colston was pulled down and dumped in the harbour.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan pleaded with the public to stay at home amid concerns that further protests in London, particularly by far-right groups which “advocate hatred and division”, could lead to violence and disorder.

BLM LDN said a planned protest in Hyde Park on Saturday was cancelled.

“We want the protests to be a safe space for people to attend, however we don’t think it’ll be possible with people like them present,” an Instagram post said.

  • Cressida Dick urged people to express their voice in a "different way and don't come physically to the streets of London"

Friday's demonstration in Hyde Park took place as planned, however. Hundreds of campaigners congregated at Speaker's Corner at 2pm. They chanted, held banners and performed a two-minute silence to raise awareness of black people oppressed around the world.

During the protest, the police detained two Black Lives Matter protesters. Around 20 officers moved through large crowds of peaceful protesters sitting on the grass to seize a pair of demonstrators and escort them to nearby police vans.

People participate in a Black Lives Matter protest rally in Hyde Park, London. Credit: PA

The Metropolitan Police declined to comment on whether anyone was arrested at the demonstration.

Anybody caught vandalising, causing criminal damage or assaulting police officers could be quickly processed through magistrates’ courts with extended opening hours, according to The Times.

More than 130 people have been arrested as more than 155,000 people across the UK took part in almost 200 demonstrations, according to the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC).

The statue of Sir Winston Churchill in Parliament Square has been covered with a protective box . Credit: Aaron Chown/PA) 

A total of 62 police officers have been injured in the protests triggered by the death of Mr Floyd.

He died after a white police officer held him down by pressing his knee into his neck for almost nine minutes in the US city of Minneapolis on May 25.

Mr Khan said: “I’m extremely concerned that further protests in central London not only risk spreading Covid-19, but could lead to disorder, vandalism and violence.

“Extreme far-right groups who advocate hatred and division are planning counter-protests, which means that the risk of disorder is high.

“Be in no doubt these counter-protests are there to provoke violence, and their only goal is to distract and hijack this important issue.

Scaffolders erect boarding around the Cenotaph on Whitehall Credit: Kirsty O’Connor/PA

“Staying home and ignoring them is the best response this weekend.”

The warning comes as the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement continues to be felt across the country with the removal of a string of monuments and statues.

On Thursday evening, a Bristol tower block sign bearing the name of a slave trader was removed.

Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospitals in London announced it will remove two statues of their namesakes from public view due to their links to the slave trade.

Scaffolders erect boarding around the statue of Sir Winston Churhill at Parliament Square Credit: Kirsty O’Connor/PA

And a video circulating online showed men in hard hats scaling Colston Tower in Bristol city centre and removing the controversial figure’s name from the top of the high-rise building.

Hours earlier, Colston’s statue was fished out of Bristol harbour after being pulled down and dumped into the water during an anti-racism demonstration on Sunday.

Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council have delayed plans to temporarily remove a statue of Scouts founder Robert Baden-Powell after angry residents vowed to fight to protect it.

The council had originally said it would move the statue from Poole Quay on Thursday over concerns it was on a target list compiled by anti-racism activists.

Campaigners have focused in on Lord Baden-Powell due to his associations with the Nazis and the Hitler Youth programme, as well as his actions in the military.

The statue features on a “topple the racists” websitewhich lists more than 60 statues and memorials across the UK which they argue should be taken down, because they “celebrate slavery and racism”.

A Scout leader salutes a statue of Robert Baden-Powell on Poole Quay in Dorset Credit: Andrew Matthews/PA

In a statement issued on Thursday afternoon, the council said the listing “placed the much-loved statue at risk of damage or even destruction”.

It added: “We know that local people feel proud of Lord Baden-Powell’s and the Scout movement’s links with Poole, and that some people feel that we would be giving in to the protesters by temporarily removing the statue.

“However, we feel it is responsible to protect it for future generations to enjoy and respect.”

The council said the statue would not be removed because its “foundations are deeper than originally envisaged” with discussions needed with contractors on how to move it safely.

Twenty-four-hour security will be put in place “until it is either removed or the threat diminishes”, the council said.