Tensions are running high within the Metropolitan police after another anti-lockdown protest descended into scenes of violence, with eight officers injured.
Ken Marsh, the chair of the Metropolitan Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers in the force, said he would be raising the matter of the protest with senior management with “utmost urgency”.
Demonstrators hurled bottles as officers attempted to disperse the crowds in Hyde Park on Saturday evening after a rally against restrictions implemented to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Photographs posted on social media showed a female police officer bleeding from a cut to her head, while another officer sustained a similar wound on his forehead.
The Met said two officers were taken to hospital, although their injuries are not believed to be serious.
Marsh said: “We can assure everyone that we shall be raising the scenes we witnessed in Hyde Park yesterday with senior management in the Metropolitan Police with utmost urgency. The safety of our police officers should be top of the agenda. We wish all our injured colleagues a swift recovery and will be supporting them as best as we can.”
The protest, which also took in Oxford Street, came almost two weeks after Covid-19 lockdown restrictions were eased. The Met said five people were arrested for offences including assault on police and public order offences.
Marsh added: “Peaceful protest may well be the cornerstone of democracy – and police officers have a role in facilitating that – but the scenes we saw in Hyde Park yesterday of a thin blue line of brave and sadly bloodied police officers coming under attack from thugs were anything but peaceful.
“Police officers are human beings who go out every day to keep people safe. Many people seem to have forgotten that right now but we will keep reminding them. Our colleagues have every right to go home to their families at the end of their shifts. Not to hospital.”
Marsh said the country was still in the middle of a pandemic, adding: “Our unvaccinated police officers deserve greater protection.”
An expert said anti-lockdown protesters who ignored social distancing rules and shunned masks were “at the very least a potential risk” to the spread of coronavirus, adding there was some evidence of mass events having an impact.
Prof Stephen Reicher from the University of St Andrews, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours (Spi-B), which advises ministers, said counties in the US that held Trump rallies recorded bigger rises in infections than those who did not.
He said: “Much depends on how people behave in these events. If they maintain distance and wear masks, there is little danger. If they explicitly ignore restrictions, if they reject masks, stand close together, touch, shout and sing, then – going back to first principles – there is likely to be a risk.
“Given that the anti-lockdown protests do all of these things, they are at the very least a potential risk.”
NHS workers described the protest scenes as “shocking” and “disappointing”.
Dr Ajay Verma, a consultant gastroenterologist and physician working in Northamptonshire, told the PA Media news agency: “There is a small minority of people who seem to believe there’s a conspiracy going on, which is upsetting, and the worst thing is they’re putting themselves at risk by gathering in a crowd. They’re protesting against the measures they’re driving themselves by gathering in a crowd. It is very disappointing, I have to say.”
Dr Karan Rajan, an NHS surgeon in Surrey, described the scenes as “shocking” – although he said he felt those involved represented a small minority of the population. “I suspect it was a significant number of people who are anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists who got involved, and yet it’s shocking to see,” he told PA Media.
“Although we know the vaccination rollout is going ahead nicely and we’re getting back to normal with restrictions easing, it’s still very worrying to see such huge gatherings without masks out in public, basically breaking the law, which is really concerning to see. And it’s just really disappointing as well.”
The protests come as India is grappling with its worst surge of the pandemic, with cases rising sharply, oxygen supplies dwindling and crematoriums overwhelmed.
“There’s stark contrast with the scenes in India, which makes it even more unbelievable in my view,” Dr Jamie Parker, a GP from Nottingham, told PA Media.
Verma added: “There were times in January, and last April, where if the trends had continued as they were we would have seen what we’re seeing in India now – a breakdown of the health service. People don’t seem to realise, we were days – not weeks, days – to the brink.”