More than 100 people have been arrested after taking part in a demonstration in central London on the first night of the new coronavirus lockdown in England.
Protesters gathered as part of the Million Mask March, an annual anti-capitalist demonstration that this year attracted a significant number of people angry about the latest wave of Covid restrictions.
Police initially struggled to control the fluid, fast-paced protest, with officers ordering those taking part to return home before making arrests.
One arrested protester said she had joined the demonstration “because it’s clear the government is lying to us and it’s not fair”.
The protester, in her 30s and from south London, who preferred not to be named, said: “My business has closed again and it was closed for six months. I managed to get nine weeks [of trading]. Last Thursday was the first day that I felt it was getting back to how it used to be, and then Saturday we got the lockdown news.
“I’m protesting for all the people who can’t see what’s going on; I’m protesting for all the people who can but feel that they can’t go to protests because of the way that they are portrayed; I’m protesting for all the people in the care homes; I’m protesting for my nan, who I haven’t seen for I don’t know how long; I’m protesting for my children; I’m protesting for humanity.”
Pursued by police, the protesters played music and chanted “freedom” as they marched and sometimes ran through the Strand, Trafalgar Square, Oxford Circus and Soho, before a large group was finally contained by officers on Oxford Street and kept there for several hours.
Other groups were tackled by the police wherever they tried to congregate, particularly in Leicester Square. By 11pm, police had made 104 arrests, mainly for breaches of coronavirus regulations, Scotland Yard said.
“As soon as we got out of the train station it was hostile,” the arrested protester said. “We were waiting to find other people and all we saw was just police chasing people.”
Commander Jane Connors, who was in charge of the policing on Thursday night, said the Metropolitan police’s priority had been “to keep Londoners safe”. She added: “Tonight, a crowd of people chose to ignore the new regulations, to behave irresponsibly and meet in a dangerous manner. More than 100 of these people have now been arrested and will have to face the consequences of their actions.”