Coronavirus: 32 arrests after ‘hostile and violent’ outbreaks at anti-vaccine protest

Protesters and police have clashed during an anti-vaccination and anti-lockdown demonstration in central London.

Hundreds of people gathered at Trafalgar Square for a “Resist And Act For Freedom” rally on Saturday afternoon, before sections got into scuffles with Metropolitan officers.

The force has said it made 32 arrests during the demonstration, which was cleared by 6pm.

Dozens of officers, including some mounted on horseback, tried to break up ranks of protesters who had formed human blockades to prevent them making arrests, with loud cheering and chanting as they pushed back the police.

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

Rally organisers sold T-shirts bearing 5G conspiracy theories and advocating the legalisation of cannbis, while others held banners calling for government scientific advisers to be sacked and declaring coronavirus a “hoax”.

Demonstrators form a chain during an anti-vax protest in Trafalgar Square Credit: Yui Mok/PA

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

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

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

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

In a statement, the Metropolitan Police said: "Officers have been in attendance and adopted the four Es approach to explain, engage and encourage them to leave throughout today. "Despite this, protesters have remained, putting themselves and others at risk."

Hundreds gathered in Trafalgar Square Credit: Yui Mok/PA

"This, coupled with pockets of hostility and outbreaks of violence towards officers, means we will now be taking enforcement action to disperse those who remain in the area."

In a statement issued on Saturday night, Superintendent Emma Richards, the Gold Commander, said: "We remain in the middle of a public health crisis, and by gathering in large numbers – such as today’s protest – puts others at risk.

"The amount of hostility shown towards officers, who were simply there to keep people safe, is unacceptable.

Protests are exempt from new legal restrictions introduced on Monday limiting groups to six, but only if it is “organised in compliance with Covid-19 secure guidance” according to government guidance.

A heavy police presence remained in Trafalgar Square as the protests were cleared. Credit: PA

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

There is no evidence that vaccines cause autism, allergies or other conditions, weaken the immune system in any way, or contain harmful ingredients, it adds.

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