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Million Mask March organisers 'refused to engage with police'

The event had become notorious for bloody clashes between police and protesters wearing Guido Fawkes masks

The number of Million Mask March anarchist protesters arrested during the infamous November 5 event dropped by more than 40 per cent this year.

Westminster ground almost to a halt on Sunday night as thousands of people wearing V for Vendetta Guido Fawkes masks chanted anti-establishment slogans as part of the annual Anonymous hacking collective event.

In previous years the Million Mask March had been characterised by bloody clashes with police and vandalism but this month turn out was much lower than normal.

Metropolitan Police had restricted the event to operating between 6-9pm on a prescribed route between Trafalgar Square and Whitehall.

While previous marches were blighted by ugly scenes as police and protesters clashed, the 2017 demonstration appeared to pass off with little trouble.

The odd firework was let off along the route from Trafalgar Square among the embankment beyond Parliament and College Green, but while previous years saw the activists splinter and charge in different directions, those on this year's march returned to Nelson's Column within 90 minutes.

Many others had already made for home by this point, with seasoned protesters claiming numbers were down on previous years.

One police officer, who worked at last year's march, described the attendance as ‘pitiful’.

In 2016, 53 arrests were made as fireworks and flares were thrown into the crowd and at police officers and attempts made to take over buildings.

But this year 31 arrests were made, the majority of which were for public disorder and one arrest was made for assault on a police officer.

Ahead of the Sunday night protest Met Police Chief Superintendent Elaine Van-Orden said the extra measures had been imposed as ‘due to the previous history of this event, we have strong reasons to believe that peaceful protest is the last thing on the minds of some of those who will attend’.

A post on the event's Facebook page ahead of the march, which warned activists that "police are not your friends", read: "We have seen the abuses and malpractice of this government, and governments before it.

"We have seen the encroaching destruction of many civil liberties we hold dear, we have seen the pushes to make the internet yet another part of the surveillance state.

"We have seen the Government's disregard for migrants, for the poor, the elderly and the disabled, we have seen the capital, profit and greed of the few put before the wellbeing of the many and we say enough is enough."

It finishes: "The Government and the one per cent have played their hand. Now it's time to play ours. Expect us."

One masked activist, who gave his name as Bob, a steeplejack from Grantham in Lincolnshire, said: "I come every year because I believe in the movement.

"I believe people need to wake up and see what's happening in the world. The governments don't work for the people, they work for the businesses."

Asked about the violent exchanges which marred previous demonstrations in the capital, the activist - who said he trusts social media as his primary head source - said: "I don't want anybody to get hurt, I'd prefer that. There are always one or two people who piggyback this movement - they're the instigators."

A Met spokesman told Police Oracle police presence was ‘significantly reduced’ compared to last year but it is believed that violence levels were lower as a result of reduced turn-out world-wide.

"Measures taken this year mirrored those taken in previous years. The MPS worked with a wide range of partners to prepare for and facilitate a peaceful protest, including the local council and local businesses.

"The Million Masked March organisers did not engage with police planners and used a pro violence rhetoric on social media. The MPS responded by broadcasting a message of intolerance against all types of crime.

"As always, the MPS seek to defend iconic public places and buildings with physical barriers and a police presence. 

"During the march a careful watch was placed on the perceived organisers and engagement with attendees helped to ensure the lawful purpose of protest was achieved. 

"Officers warned repeatedly and acted robustly against attempted or actual criminal damage and physical assault."

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