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The invasion of Westfield

Officers faced a series of challenges at another multi-faced anti-lockdown protest in London writes Chris Hobbs

It began with the usual faintly ludicrous game of cat and mouse with the police. Organisers of yet another anti-Lockdown, anti-vaccine, anti-mask, anti-global (by the elite) conspiracy protest on Saturday, left the announcement of the starting point until 8pm on Friday evening in the forlorn hope that this would hamper the police operation.

The route too was not discussed with the police or amongst themselves it would seem given the confusion amongst the apparent leadership, when the procession arrived at a crossroads.

Parliament Square was the ‘rendezvous’ point even though the ‘secretive’ organisers stated that it wouldn’t accommodate all those arriving to participate. In actual fact the square was crowded but there was plenty of room on the roads leading into the square unlike previous Remainer protests or indeed the ‘Brexit’ night celebrations.

The head of the march actually assembled in Parliament Street and headed straight up Whitehall towards Trafalgar Square. Boris’s nuptials would have been undisturbed as the procession paused but briefly by Downing Street. Then it was along the Charing Cross Road and left into Oxford Street towards Hyde Park. Those shoppers and tourists wearing masks were duly harangued by a number of protesters.

At Oxford Circus there was a considerable police presence of ‘kitted out’ officers minus NATO helmets, possibly there to prevent any siege of the BBC which had been a target of anti-Lockdown protesters two weeks ago.

The marchers kept on going and a TSG serial, walking beside them, suddenly became the target of the crowd’s animosity with abuse being hurled in their direction. The TSG stopped, the crowd closed in and eventually the Inspector decided that the serial should return the way they came.

The two serials in ‘beat uniforms’ however marching alongside protesters further along the march didn’t attract attention but that would change.

The march reached Speaker’s Corner and hopes that it would finish there were over- optimistic. It continued into Hyde Park Terrace thus alongside the park and then further continued into Bayswater Road. Shortly after Notting Hill Gate, the marchers stopped for a 15- minute rest. It was here that problems began.

I heard chants further back along the now static procession, of ‘shame on you’ which was the usual chant signalling displeasure with police. On reaching the incident, the serial of ‘beat officers’ faced by a hostile crowd, were falling back in front of a police carrier. My guess was (and I’m still unaware of what occurred) that an arrest had been made.

The officers formed up in front of the carrier which slowly reversed as did the officers. It looked only a matter of time before the crowd attacked the officers, but a number of protesters forced their way through the crowd and stood, arms linked, facing what had now become a mob. Other, rather formidable looking marchers scuffled with those abusing police and prevented any further advance towards the police cordon.

The police carrier reached a junction and was able to extricate itself and I expected the officers to do likewise. However, they re-grouped and continued escorting the march. On this occasion, the mob walked parallel with them hurling abuse and the occasional missile. Officers moved into single file and actually placed one hand on the shoulder of the officer in front in order to ensure that they didn’t become separated.

Gradually, however, the pressure on the officers eased as their tormenters lost interest and wandered off. Some excellent leadership was apparent as the serial Inspector took the time to check on his officers, several of whom looked shaken by the experience.

As one serial of officers faced a hostile crowd, another, further back along the possession came across an unrelated traffic accident where a female cyclist has been knocked off her bike by a vehicle, suffering a fracture. Officers and a member of the public with his own pedal cycle, diverted marchers away until the arrival of the ambulance which was delayed because of the protest.

One female protester stated that the accident had ‘been staged’ to show the police in a good light.

The Invasion of Westfield

The next stop was Shepherds Bush Green as marchers caused traffic chaos before they set off down the Goldhawk Road. I had hoped they might be heading for Ealing, but it was a right turn into Askew Road which saw a succession of ‘U-turns’ by vehicles as drivers saw the approaching marchers.

The march intended to turn right at the Uxbridge Road in order to head back towards Shepherds Bush but as marchers entered and began to block the junction, a car edged forward and gently ‘nudged’ some of the marchers. This caused outrage but the driver, a black guy in a grey hoodie, was unfazed. Despite being outnumbered, he got out of his car and remonstrated with the marchers. Escorting officers were quickly on scene and extricated the driver and his vehicle.

The march back to Shepherds Bush was uneventful, but as the procession reached Shepherds Bush station, protesters turned left and dozens began running towards Westfield, past startled diners eating ‘al-fresco’ in the numerous eateries that run parallel with the shopping centre. Hundreds were flooding towards the shopping complex as staff could be seen frantically locking doors.

Police were also now on the move with the serial that had endured earlier on running to get ahead of the protesters who were headed for an entrance at the far end of the site which had to be reached by stairs. Officers reached the entrance and formed a cordon although some protesters had already managed to get inside.

Disgraceful scenes followed as protesters tried to force their way through the cordon encouraged by one of ‘leaders’ who pushed himself through the police line waving at others to follow and verbally encouraging them using his megaphone. A number did make it through, thus making officers vulnerable from both sides.

Whilst the two events cannot be compared, the reprehensible behaviour of the marchers in trying to break through the police cordon, encouraged by their ‘leaders’ reminded me, as I was watching, of the storming of Capitol Hill by Trump supporters.

Officers, kitted out, but without NATO helmets, arrived to assist and more scuffles followed with all officers now drawing batons and a stable cordon established on the other side of the doors facing those protesters who had made it inside.

The crowd retreated back down the stairs and quickly found another unguarded entrance before pouring into the centre, chanting as they did so. Some shoppers were simply intrigued, others especially those with children, clearly alarmed. Security staff were jeered while both security staff and police managed to secure some entrances and exits.

Outside, thousands of protesters were still pouring into the narrow passageway that separated the restaurants from the complex. Suddenly, doubtless because of sealed entrances, the cry went out to turn around which the crowd did and walked back towards the station.

Many opted to walk down Holland Park Avenue back in the direction of Hyde Park. Hundreds however continued milling about in and around Shepherds Bush station and bus garage and I returned to observe events there. As I walked back, I heard that familiar chant of ‘shame on you.’

I found fully kitted out BTP OSU (Operational Support Unit) with batons drawn, facing a crowd in a stand-off. It would seem a protester enjoyed flicking caps from officer’s heads and his arrest prompted a hostile response from the crowd.

A BTP superintendent tweeted the following that appears to be linked to the above- mentioned incident.

“Disgraceful levels of violence directed at @BTPOSU facilitating the anti-lockdown protest at Shepherds Bush when a few protesters suddenly turned violent, throwing punches and bottles-concussing and hospitalising one officer, injuring 3 others. Arrests made. Charges will follow.”

After that incident ended, the next focus was on a lady standing in the middle of the road screaming foul mouthed anti-police abuse in the direction of officers sitting in the driver’s seats of police carriers while their occupants were elsewhere.

I saw her minutes later, berating, three delightful masked ladies, who like the female causing the disturbance, were also black and who had previously been having a sensible debate with other protesters concerning masks. As the one-sided debate began to get out of control, the three eventually walked off as the angry lady announced that she was………a doctor.

It seems that although police cleared Westfield of protesters, the management decided that the centre would close early. I watched one downward escalator exit for a few minutes during the ‘occupation’ and saw literally hundreds of shoppers leave. As was pointed out on social media, the disruptive antics of anti-Lockdown protesters had, ironically, adversely affected numerous businesses that had already suffered greatly from the very lockdowns which the mob, who had invaded Westfield, were protesting about.

The gathering at Hyde Park

Reports now began to arrive of a large crowd gathering in Hyde Park near Speaker’s Corner. I, with an intrepid photo-journalist decided to take the central Line back to Marble Arch. On the platform, there was a chanting, mask-less crowd heading in the same direction. One individual, an overweight, middle aged skinhead decided to berate me for wearing a mask. I duly responded.

On arrival in the park at about 8.15 pm, there were several hundred people present including a substantial group who were dancing and chanting anti-Lockdown slogans to drumbeats. The grassed area was strewn with litter including glass beer and wine bottles plus cans which would provide ample ammunition in case of conflict. It was clear that the ‘rave’ had been going on for some time.

Shortly after our arrival ‘kitted out’ officers in baseball caps began circulating amongst the crowd suggesting that now would be a good time to call it a night. One individual, armed with a megaphone berated police; it was later discovered that he was the gentleman escorted from the bandstand at Clapham Common during the evening of Sarah’s vigil, after attempting to make an unwelcome speech.

In another incident a drunken male launched a foul- mouthed tirade of abuse and threats against two officers who were ‘engaging’ with the public which was duly captured via mobile phone. A number of comments were made that he should have been arrested however, an arrest, whilst fully deserved, would have sparked instant serious disorder. Another consideration was that there were a number of small children accompanying protesters in the immediate vicinity.

A textbook operation

Just after 9pm, as dusk was apparent, carriers moved closer to the partying protesters. It was clear the police did not want this impromptu event to continue as dusk turned to pitch blackness.

A number of individuals noticed the increased police activity and this increased to most when officers could be seen donning NATO helmets. As a fully kitted serial stood by their carrier, they were shouted at by an angry father who informed them that the sight of the officers in full riot gear was terrifying his young son. The boy in question, aged about eight, didn’t look remotely terrified just bewildered and not a little embarrassed.

As some officers deployed to behind some temporary barriers, the crowd decided to move as one amidst shouted insults. All left by one path and officers moved down through the middle as if to hurry their movement out of the park. The display of large numbers of officers in ‘riot gear’ convinced the revellers that ‘resistance was useless’ and the clearance of the park could only be described as ‘textbook.’

Once out of the park, about a hundred remained, hurling further abuse from a safe distance at officers both inside and outside the park as additional TSG units arrived. Eventually police re-grouped just behind the gates leaving the diminishing number of drunken protesters to continue to throw insults.

Another group, outside the Marble Arch entrance to the station, continued their rave to the beat of the drums. However, what could have been a violent operation to clear drunken, hostile protesters from the park had been concluded with no arrests, injuries or untoward incidents.

For the Met, the evening was still young. Issues across London beckoned including celebrating football supporters and an unlicensed rave. For myself and professional photo journos whose company I’ve shared over the past few weeks, a long day was finally at an end.

It appears there were just a handful of arrests and it remains to be whether there is any post-incident investigation to identify those responsible for the incident at Westfield.

Another mass protest is planned for the 26th of June and indications on social media already suggest the possibility of mass disorder if ‘liberation day’ on the 21st of June is delayed.

Chris Hobbs is a former Met officer who worked in Special Branch. He has been following all the London lockdown protests as an observer on behalf of Police Oracle 

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