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London protests: Dog Day Afternoon

Chris Hobbs attends a variety of protests taking in everything from the proposed ban on American XL bully dogs, ULEZ, a cashless society, Brexit and the World Economic Forum.

London protests: Dog Day Afternoon

Date - 27th September 2023
By - Chris Hobbs

After a traumatic week for the Met, the Gold commander responsible for Saturday’s public order protests in London, could have been forgiven for having a glass of something cool in the evening whilst contemplating the successful policing of the day’s events.

The biggest march of the day in terms of numbers was that which advocated rejoining the European Union. They met near Hyde Park Corner having been forbidden from gathering in the park itself. There were many thousands and the crowds were awash with blue EU flags. Most officers would agree that pro-EU protesters are probably the easiest of all to manage from a policing point of view. The only issue is one of numbers.

At the opposite end of Hyde Park, by Speakers Corner, those wishing to support the periodic Freedom march were also gathering. The Freedom ‘movement,’ was born out of anti-Lockdown protests during the Covid pandemic. Their ‘manifesto’ now incorporates a variety of causes (anti-vaxx, anti-WEF-World Economic Forum-, anti-globalisation, against- support for Ukraine, anti-a cashless society, climate change denial, anti-LTN and anti-ULEZ).  This particular march was replicated at a number of other venues throughout the world.

Whilst their numbers weren’t as great as those of the Rejoin march, their turnout was both noisy and formidable as they filled Oxford Street thereby attracting the attention of shoppers and tourists. At Oxford Circus the marchers turned down Regent Street and headed for Piccadilly. Interestingly there was a police presence outside the Apple Store, presumably considered a potential ‘Globalisation target,’ but this was ignored by the marchers.

At Piccadilly Circus, the policing plan hit a snag. It seems that the Freedom marchers should have gone down Haymarket when heading towards Trafalgar Square and Whitehall. However, these marchers could see, at the very bottom of Regent Street the Rejoin campaigners walking along Pall Mall. It would be true to say that most if not just about all the Freedom marchers are pro-Brexit.

Accordingly, they set off down the road towards Pall Mall and the pro-EU marchers. As they reached the junction, the rear of the Rejoin march had cleared. Some Rejoiners however were looking nervously behind them and several complained to police.

Insults exchanged

However, in fairness, there was no attempt by the Freedom marchers to close the gap and both marches, one following the other, entered Whitehall with no incidents and a police presence between the two. The Rejoin march slowed as it reached Downing Street but they were kept to the left by a white ‘marshalling’ tape. The Freedom marchers kept to the right and then were marching alongside those sporting the plethora of blue EU flags. There was an exchange of insults, but the Freedom marchers halted, as they had intended, outside the Downing Street gates.

As planned, several volleys of tennis balls, each with a less than complementary message for the Prime Minister were thrown over the Downing Street railings. None were deliberately thrown at officers. The Freedom marchers then set off to Parliament Square where they found the greased area fully occupied by Rejoiners and where there was a stage and screen.

The Freedom marchers stayed in the road and insults were again duly exchanged with Rejoiners. One Freedom marcher with a large St George’s flag and clutching a can of lager draped his flag over the faces of several EU supporters but that was the closest to any act of violence seen.

The Freedom marchers marched around the roads surrounding Parliament Square ending up again by Churchill’s statue. The exchange of insults, especially from the Freedom marchers was more foul mouthed than previously as was the sadly predictable chant of ‘Ingerland,’ but, with there being a benevolent police presence, there was not hint of violence.

Most Freedom marchers returned up Whitehall while about forty remained directly outside Parliament’s gates. Suddenly and somewhat incongruously, there was the sound of a band and everyone’s attention switched to what was a Loyalist procession complete with bandsmen and marchers immaculately dressed in suits. On reaching Parliament Square this procession turned left into Bridge Street.

The XL Bully protest

That appeared to be that and I began to walk back up Whitehall towards Trafalgar Square when I saw, in the distance, a march heading towards Parliament Square. Initially, I thought it was the Freedom marchers returning. Then, as they drew closer, it seemed that this may have been some sort of paramilitary group as many were dressed in all black. In fact, it was a protest against government plans to ban XL Bully dogs.

Many of the marchers were in their teens and twenties and there were also a number of young children, all of whom were chanting, ‘save our bullies.’ They were quite well organised with T-shirts, banners and leaflets. Interestingly (and perhaps wisely), there were no bully dogs on view as the protesters grouped around the Parliament Square crossroads by Bridge Street.

At one stage they staged a ‘sit down’ but that lasted just a few minutes. Attempts by police to persuade them to leave were met by the goading chant of ‘You ain’t got the numbers.’ Officers, led by a chief Inspector, moved into the middle of the group to talk to the leaders but were subject to intimidation which stopped short of any physical assault.

The crowd then moved to Abingdon Street and briefly entered Victoria Tower Gardens before retracing their steps to Parliament Square. A right turn took them onto Westminster Bridge which they briefly blocked before again returning to Parliament Square.

By this time three TSG carriers had been summonsed and officers escorted the bully protesters back up Whitehall where they congregated outside the Downing Street gates. Gently and politely, the officers coaxed them to the side of the road thus enabling traffic to flow again.

After a short interval, and by now looking somewhat fatigued, the crowd walked up towards Trafalgar Square, passing a pub where drinkers outside, who had been taking part in the Freedom march, gave them a rousing reception.

Watched by the TSG, the save our bullies,’ group congregated on the plinth underneath Nelson’s Column thereby bringing an end to Saturday’s public order events.

The day appears to have passed off without incident, yet there were tensions that needed patient and sensitive policing which was there in abundance. There will be questions asked by senior managers as to whether the bully protest could present a public order problem in future months if the government go ahead with the ban.

Clearly, it was agreed by the organisers that bully dogs should not be brought to the protest, but that may not be the case in the future and will have to be considered in any threat assessment. The other possibility is that any future protest could attract additional undesirable elements.

However, in the more immediate future, those at the top of the Met have rather more urgent matters to attend to as the force faces its most serious policing crisis in many years.

Since Lockdown Chris Hobbs, a former Special Branch  officer, has been covering public order events for Police Oracle as an observer 

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