Demonstrators attacked police officers, stormed a bank and smashed windows as thousands of protesters converged on the City of London for a series of events timed to coincide with the G20 summit.
Thirty-two people were arrested by 7pm, including 11 who drove an armoured car, marked Riot Police, through the crowd. When stopped, the vehicle was searched and police uniforms were found, prompting fears that the group planned to infiltrate the police ranks.
Others were held on offences ranging from possession of class A drugs, criminal damage and obstruction of the highway in a charge that could perhaps have been levelled at all of the 5,000 people who packed the streets and roads around the capital’s financial centre. Two men were arrested on suspicion of aggravated burglary after they smashed their way inside a Royal Bank of Scotland building, lit a fire and then threw computer terminals outside.
But those arrested were in the minority. The four marches, which started at Cannon Street, Moorgate, Liverpool Street and London Bridge stations before arriving at the Bank of England, were largely peaceful.
The first signs of tension came when bankers in the buildings above taunted the protesters by waving £10 notes. This prompted cries of “Jump!” from the crowd below.
Police moved in when canisters of red smoke were let off. One officer had his hat snatched from his head and thrown gleefully around the crowd. Another was knocked over by one of the anarchist’s flagpoles. An eyewitness claimed he saw a policeman break someone’s arm with his baton. Seven protesters were taken to hospital, as was one of the 5,000 police officers on duty across the capital.
As City workers watched from balconies, protesters broke through the police lines and stormed into the Royal Bank of Scotland building on Threadneedle Street. Some urinated against the walls of the bank while others launched missiles or hung from the signs of the surrounding shops, shouting: “Stand your ground, do not back down,” and chanting “revolution”.
As well as their chants, the protesters carried banners proclaiming messages such as “punish the looters” and “abolish money”.
Some of the protesters, whose number included the comedian Russell Brand and musician Billy Bragg, were veterans who had demonstrated at the May Day protests in 2000 and at the poll tax demonstrations in the 1980s. Russell Hicks (48), from Hackney, east London, was one of them.
He said: “I thought it was my duty to be here as a citizen of this country. I personally don’t feel anger, it’s just a matter of supporting one another.”
But as early evening arrived, the violence intensified. Outside the Bank of England, protesters, blocked in by police cordons, threw plastic bottles, banners and toilet rolls at officers and chanted: “Let us out. Let us out.”
The police line at Mansion House Place was also targeted. Protesters threw glass bottles, at least one of which narrowly missed an officer. The crowd then surged towards another line of police nearby only to flee in panic as officers baton charged.
In contrast to the violence in Threadneedle Street, the climate change camp set up by environmental activists on Bishopsgate, half a mile to the north, was remarkably peaceful throughout the day. Although there was a heavy police presence throughout the morning, the authorities made no attempt to try to stop the camp being set up.
At 12.30pm, more than 1,000 environmental activists arrived en masse banging drums, dancing to carnival music and turning the usually staid and grey streets of the Square Mile into a carnival of colour and dancing.
Within minutes the streets were transformed as activists pitched their tents, unfurled banners and covered the street with pro-environment graffiti. The smell of vegan food, incense and cannabis drifted through the air.
The climate change activists plan to stay in the City for 24 hours, meaning that their camp, complete with compost toilets, vegan canteens and environmental workshops, will last well into today and for the duration of the G20 summit.
Speaking about yesterday’s violence, Scotland Yard commander Simon O’Brien said that the majority of the protesters had behaved lawfully, but that was spoiled by “a small harcore element who wanted to hijack the lawful protest”.