Scotland Yard said it was aware several groups planned to hold demonstrations in London tomorrow in defiance of coronavirus lockdown restrictions. Senior officers said a significant policing operation would be in place throughout the day to engage with people who breach Covid-19 regulations. They said people who join protests will be encouraged to return home but warned those who refuse will face enforcement action including fixed penalty notices or arrest.
The warning comes as an inquiry into the policing of last weekend’s vigil for murdered 33-year-old Sarah Everard gets underway.
Metropolitan Police 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.”
He continued: “People who gather as part of the protest risk the health of Londoners.
“That is why we have a policing plan in place to disperse crowds and where necessary, take proportionate enforcement action.
“This will not just be organisers of the protests but participants too – by now everyone knows their part to play in stopping the spread of the virus and thousands have sacrificed much over the last 12 months to do so.
“We do not want to be in a position where enforcement is necessary – we would rather our officers be in London’s communities, tackling local issues.
“That is why I would urge people to reconsider joining a protest and stay at home.”
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Scotland Yard said Government legislation makes gatherings in groups of more than two people unlawful, unless exemptions apply and warned attending a protest is not an exception under the Covid-19 regulations.
Officers were criticised for the handling of last week’s Clapham Common vigil and Met chief Dame Cressida Dick faced calls to resign.
The event had originally been organised by the protest group Reclaim These Streets which was forced to cancel it after police said it would be in breach of coronavirus rules.
But crowds still gathered to remember Ms Everard whose death sparked an outpouring of grief and anger at violence against women.
While largely peaceful, the vigil was marred by scuffles and with police were accused of heavy-handedness after some women were bundled to the ground and handcuffed.
Earlier this week Deputy Commissioner Sir Stephen House said his officers were “doing their duty as they saw it” to enforce legislation at the event.
Speaking to the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee, he said he understood the force’s actions had upset people but his officers had believed they were doing the right thing.
Sir Stephen told the committee that officers at the vigil were faced with an “incredibly difficult situation” and had been met with abuse for trying to disperse the crowds.
He said the force fully supports the independent review into the handling of the event and was already passing on the information required.