The third Trafalgar Square rally – organised to question and protest against Covid restrictions – got off to a bright start on Saturday with sunny weather, happy sounds playing through the huge speakers, and the assembled crowd – an alleged 45,000 of them – all in good spirits.
There were people of all ages, sexes, religions and races present, all set on having a good time and listening to some interesting guest speakers, who’d be appearing at the top of the steps in front of the National Gallery facing into the square.
There was a noticeable police presence – some officers in blue, some in high-vis yellow, some wearing the old-fashioned bobby police hats – but it wasn’t menacing: just a bunch of friendly cops doing their jobs.
Vincent Dunmall of Save Our Rights UK made a respectful and heartfelt opening speech, which included a one-minute silence for the police officer who was killed last Friday in Croydon and a big thank you for the cooperation of the police in the run-up to this legal protest. A licence had been granted by Westminster Council and a risk assessment had been carried out. It was going to be a good day.
So what went wrong? Why did what should have been a peaceful event end in yet more bloodshed and tears? I can tell you…
As one of a very few mainstream journalists to be invited into the guest enclosure, I saw everything from stage height and probably with greater clarity than the journos on the ground or periphery. I’m also privileged to be friends with a few of the guest speakers.
After watching and listening to several of the lesser-known orators (Daniel J. Gregory, Simone Marshall, Laura Jayne who, at 21, is already a veteran protest speaker) and the founder of Stand Up X, the crowd was treated to a passionate speech and some ‘spoken word’ from musician and personal trainer Gareth Icke, a blast of the beautifully eccentric Piers Corbyn and a torrentially rousing address from Gareth’s dad David Icke, a man who, after years of ridicule and denigration, is finally coming into his own as people the world over wake up to the truth he’s been attempting to share for three decades.
Following Icke snr. was Dr. Heiko Schöning, a German medical doctor and founder of Doctors For The Truth. He stepped on stage and had barely uttered a few sentences when we got word that the police were about to charge. I asked Louise May Creffield, founder of Save Our Rights UK, what was happening: she had no idea.
Suddenly, a tidal wave of a new set of officers (these were no friendly bobbies) – many in riot gear; helmets in place of hats – were surging towards us. In an effort to protect those in the guest/press enclosure, the team of voluntary security men linked arms and formed a barricade.
One minute later, the police, armed with batons, bashed their way through the human wall, pushing, punching and swiping with their weapons. I saw several security men – all unarmed – being hit by these thugs in uniform.
At this point, we were all being pushed back, squashed, unable to escape, because we’d been kettled now, with police on all sides. There were two elderly women next to me, clearly distressed, and I spoke briefly to Laura Jayne and her mum, who were looking hopelessly for a way out. It seemed we were being herded down the steps into the crowd below. Thoughts of Hillsborough crossed my mind.
“Sit down! Everybody sit down!” shouted a smartly-dressed young woman through a loud-hailer. (I recognised her as 37-year-old NHS worker Louise Hampton, who reached Internet fame a few weeks back after exposing the truth behind the certificates awarded to NHS staff for all their hard work during the pandemic. Louise labelled hers “a certificate of bollocks” and drew attention worldwide for her candid revelations.)
Instead of sitting down, I edged towards the side of the steps, slipped under a rail and made my way into the main crowd. Most were totally baffled by what they were seeing. I nipped around the side only to be confronted with another line of baton-toting officers. Some protesters were chanting at them – “choose your side, choose your side” – but the officers didn’t flinch.
I decided to speak to one. I asked him what they were all doing, lined up like that. He told me they were “awaiting orders.” I asked “and if those orders are instructing you to charge at the crowd and hit them with your batons, is that what you’re going to do?” The officer, a young man of about 25, who may or may not have had a cheeky grin under his blue surgical face mask, told me that they wouldn’t be ordered to do such a thing. “Well, that’s what’s happening right now, just over there,” I said, pointing over his shoulder. “And it’s what happened at last week’s protest too.” He shrugged. “I wouldn’t know about that,”he said. “I wasn’t working last weekend.”
I moved on to the next officer.
Towering over me by at least a foot, with eyes as black as coal, his answers to my questions were monosyllabic and non-committal. Next to him was another male officer, more my height, with fuzzy auburn sideburns protruding through the elastic strings that stretched from his plastic muzzle to his ears. “Would you hit unarmed innocent people if you were ordered to?” I asked. He told me he would only do such a thing in self-defence. I asked him what a nice boy like him was doing in a job like this. He didn’t reply. I glanced at Robo Cop next to him. I knew why HE’d joined the police force.
My final ‘interview’ was with a police officer in the street. He told me the protest licence had been revoked because the crowd weren’t observing social distancing rules. Oh, the irony! Social distancing rules were just one of the many restrictions the crowd were protesting about!
It wasn’t until I got home and went on social media that I spotted the biased, inaccurate reports already online. Not one reporter had spoken to the organisers, the guest speakers or the protesters. There were headlines about ‘scuffles’ and suggestions that the protesters were violent. I wondered who these journalists were – whether any of them had actually been at the protest (it certainly didn’t read like they had) and how the editors of these online news outlets could be happy with such half-baked non-stories.
I discovered that Dr. Schöning had been arrested at Hyde Park. (He’d gone there to continue his aborted speech at Speakers’ Corner but was handcuffed by police and carted away in a police van. He was later released after the police had confiscated his phone, computer and a book he had with him called ‘Coronavirus – False Alarm?’)
On Sunday, I sorted through my photos and video footage and was sent more by people who we’re actually there, like me, in the middle of it.
There was a video of a tiny, elderly woman in a green skirt suit being punched violently in the stomach by a six-foot police officer. He showed not a flicker of guilt or remorse as she flew backwards and fell hard on the ground. I’ve been told she was there with a group of doctors, all keen to hear what Dr. Schoning had to say but I’ve yet to speak to her. There’s further video of men with bleeding heads and police whacking anyone who stood in their way.
Other footage and photos showed an oddly different story. Mid-riot, when police were stopped and quizzed by brave protesters, they suddenly looked baffled, bemused, scared even. One female police officer, in a video made by activist Cassie Sunshine, was visibly shaken and obviously near to tears. The officer beside her, whipped out a nebuliser and took a few urgent puffs from it: what was he doing at work? He clearly wasn’t fit for duty.
I’m still collecting more evidence of what I deem to be, in pure and simple terms, blatant police brutality. How can the Metropolitan Police behave this way at a peaceful protest? Who are they getting their orders from? Since when have they been given the right to assault and batter people? When did this shift occur? When did it start? And, more importantly, when is it going to stop?