George Floyd death: Concern for London's Black Lives Matter protests after violence breaks out

6 June 2020, 21:56 | Updated: 7 June 2020, 06:48

For organisers of Saturday's central London rally, it had been a very promising start to the day.

I have rarely seen Parliament Square and the surrounding streets as packed as they were for this event.

The protest was a defiant rejection of the government's appeal to stay away.

Home Secretary Priti Patel had just hours earlier warned of the potential risk to the lives of protesters and to the wider community because of the ongoing coronavirus health emergency.

The protesters I spoke to said they were more than aware of the potential risks of crowding into the streets around Westminster, but it was a risk they were prepared to take.

The message, they said, was just too important to stay at home.

Around Parliament Square, there was absolutely no chance anyone could effectively socially distance themselves from one and another.

Protesters were shoulder to shoulder, but most did at least have masks on.

By mid-afternoon, a large crowd of more than 1,000 gathered on Whitehall, just outside Downing Street.

They were noisy, but peaceful for the most part.

The mood though began to change around about 5pm. The chants towards the police were more hostile and abusive.

Throughout these demonstrations, Scotland Yard commanders had been keen to adopt a low-profile policing strategy.

They knew the sensitives of many in the crowd meant too many police on the streets would have been counter-productive, and risk inflaming already heightened tensions.

And so pockets of police guarded some sensitive buildings and police liaison officers mixed with the crowds. But most officers were kept out of sight in nearby streets.

An hour later, flares were thrown at Downing Street and bottles and other objects lobbed at those officers in front of the Downing Street gates.

Less than a minute later, dozens of fully equipped public protection officers, with helmets and shields filed out the gates to take over from their less well protected colleagues.

Over the next few minutes the situation deteriorated to the point police commanders called in mounted officers.

As they pushed protesters far back down Whitehall, away from Downing Street, an officer was thrown from her horse as they collided with a traffic light.

There was a sickening thud as she was tossed violently to the ground, her horse bolting past protesters and police back up Whitehall.

Scotland Yard told me the officer is still in hospital but thankfully did not suffer life-threatening injuries.

For a while our camera team was caught between police and protesters, trying to report live and avoid the odd bottle tossed in our direction.

For around an hour there were sporadic clashes. The stand-off between protesters and police ran well into the night.

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While it is clear there were elements within that crowd spoiling for a fight, others I spoke to said they were deeply upset about what had happened, pointing the finger of blame at some of the demonstrators.

One man, very emotional at what he was witnessing, accused those clashing with police of damaging the aims of this protest - a message he said would be lost as the media concentrated on the scenes of violence.

This was not what organisers and police had wanted and there is now real concern about Sunday's planned march to the US embassy in central London.