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Police officers call for ban on protests amid Covid threat

The Police Federation are calling for curbs on large gatherings because of the Covid-19 threat.

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Police are confronted by protesters in Whitehall near Parliament Square (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Police are confronted by protesters in Whitehall near Parliament Square (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Police are confronted by protesters in Whitehall near Parliament Square (Jonathan Brady/PA)

The organisation that represents rank-and-file police officers in England and Wales has called on the Home Secretary to ban all protests while the threat of Covid-19 remains.

Police Federation chairman John Apter said Priti Patel must be “unequivocal” in stating that large gatherings are not allowed.

It comes after a second weekend of violent clashes in the capital as far-right protesters took over areas near the Houses of Parliament and Trafalgar Square on Saturday in response to anti-racism demonstrations sparked by the death of George Floyd.

Mr Apter said: “In normal times the principle of having the right to peaceful protests is an important one.

“However, we are not in normal times, we are tackling a deadly virus which is indiscriminate in who it can affect.

“Police officers have provided outstanding professionalism in their dealings with large gatherings during Covid-19 – some of which turned violent at the weekend.

“But we can’t ignore the avoidable risk our members and to those attending the protests are being exposed to.

“I urge the Home Secretary to be unequivocal in her terms that whilst we are under the threat of this virus, any large gathering or protest must be banned.

“We cannot allow our police officers and members of the public to be put at risk of contracting the virus, especially at such a critical time in our response to the pandemic.”

But Downing Street said any ban was an “operational matter” for senior officers to apply to the Home Secretary for.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We continue to urge people not to attend further protests because gatherings of over six people remain illegal.

“Ministers have no powers to initiate a ban on marches themselves, it’s an operational matter for police.”

At the request of their local police force, councils – or in London the head of the Metropolitan Police or City of London Police – can apply to Home Secretary Priti Patel for consent to make a banning order, but the Downing Street spokesman said no such applications had been received.

Protesters could already face sanctions under coronavirus laws, which currently ban groups of more than six people, with exceptions, from gathering.

A total of 23 officers were injured in London as police were pelted with missiles, smoke grenades, glass bottles and flares on Saturday.

The protest was condemned by Prime Minister Boris Johnson as “racist thuggery” and described as “mindless hooliganism” by police.

Some 113 people were arrested, including 28-year-old Andrew Banks, from Stansted, Essex, who appeared at court on Monday charged with outraging public decency.

Banks was arrested after being pictured urinating next to the memorial dedicated to Pc Keith Palmer, the officer who was stabbed to death in the 2017 terror attack in Westminster.

At a hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court, he admitted the offence and was sentenced to 14 days in prison.

The counter-protest came after thousands of anti-racist demonstrators marched in events triggered by the death of Mr Floyd after a white police officer held him down by pressing his knee into his neck for almost nine minutes in Minneapolis on May 25.

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A boarded up Churchill statue on Parliament Square, London (Jonathan Brady/PA)

A boarded up Churchill statue on Parliament Square, London (Jonathan Brady/PA)

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A boarded up Churchill statue on Parliament Square, London (Jonathan Brady/PA)

The previous weekend saw anti-racist protesters clash with police in London, while the statue of Sir Winston Churchill and the cenotaph were boarded up ahead of the latest demonstrations after becoming targets of vandalism.

In Bristol, a statue of slave trader Edward Colston was pulled down and dumped in the harbour, sparking a wider debate over monuments linked to Britain’s role in the slave trade and colonialism.

Bristol music venue Colston Hall has removed the name of the 17th century merchant from its signage and said: “We cannot continue to be a monument to his memory.”

On Sunday, Boris Johnson announced plans for a cross-Government commission to examine “all aspects” of racial inequality in Britain in the wake of two weeks of Black Lives Matter protests.

Mr Johnson told broadcasters: “What I really want to do as Prime Minister is change the narrative so we stop the sense of victimisation and discrimination.

“We stamp out racism and we start to have a real expectation of success. That’s where I want to get to but it won’t be easy.”

But shadow justice secretary David Lammy accused the Government of writing its commission on race and ethnic disparities “on the back of a fag packet” to “assuage the Black Lives Matter protest”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “You can understand why it feels like, yet again in the UK, we want figures, data – but we don’t want action.

“Black people aren’t playing victim, as Boris indicates, they are protesting precisely because the time for review is over and the time for action is now.”

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