Coronavirus: London anti-lockdown protests see 16 arrests as police left in hospital after clashes
26 September 2020, 15:25 | Updated: 26 September 2020, 23:21
At least nine police officers and three demonstrators have been injured during clashes at an anti-lockdown protest in London's Trafalgar Square - which saw 16 people arrested.
Two of the officers injured needed hospital treatment, the Metropolitan Police said.
The force said the arrests were for offences including breaching coronavirus regulations, assaulting a police officer, public order offences and violent disorder.
Dozens of police wore riot helmets as they penned in demonstrators and conspiracy theorists, trying to shut down the "We Do Not Consent" rally.
The crowd of thousands threw bottles at the officers and chanted "pick your side", while police used batons against them and left some with visible injuries.
While protests are exempt from the "rule of six" in England, organisers must submit a risk assessment and comply with social distancing - rules police said were communicated to the organisers.
Met Police released a statement saying those who stayed could face criminal penalties as they "have not complied with the conditions of their risk assessment and are putting people in danger of transmitting the virus".
"This has voided their risk assessment and we have informed the event organisers they are no longer exempt from the regulations," the force said.
Commander Ade Adelekan, leading the police operation, said: "As the crowds began to swell in Trafalgar Square, it became impossible for people maintain social distancing and keep each other safe.
"There appeared to be no efforts by organisers to engage with crowds and keep those assembling safe from transmitting the virus.
"This lack of action voided the risk assessment submitted by event organisers the night before.
"Therefore, today's demonstration was no longer exempt from the coronavirus regulations. In the interest of public safety, officers then worked quickly to disperse crowds.
"I am grateful to those members of the demonstration who listened to officers and went home."
At least three protesters were also treated by medical staff in scenes condemned by Home Secretary Priti Patel.
She tweeted: "It is galling to see the police having to deal with people intent on causing trouble and harm at the anti-lockdown protests.
"The police are here to look after us. The lockdown rules are here to stop the virus spreading and to save lives."
Signs, placards and flags with various anti-government signs were held up during the rally, with few face masks and no social distancing in sight.
Officers were seen searching a man and confiscating a makeshift riot shield he was carrying.
Among the speakers who argued that they were standing up for freedom of expression and human rights was conspiracy theorist David Icke, who was met with repeated chants of "freedom".
London's mayor, Sadiq Khan, tweeted that the protest was " not acceptable".
"I urge all protestors to leave now. Large gatherings are banned for a reason - you are putting the safety of our city at risk," he wrote.
The debate around acceptable government control during the pandemic has heightened as parliament prepares to review its COVID-19 legislation and the government considers further restrictions to control the disease.
Some lawmakers have criticised the government for implementing the rules without parliamentary approval.
Last week, another anti-lockdown protest in Trafalgar Square saw more than a dozen officers injured when demonstrators clashed with police and 32 people were arrested.
Hundreds of people attended that rally and some became involved in "outbreaks of violence towards officers", the Metropolitan Police said at the time.