Residents of the leafy suburb in West London were surprised to find heavy police presence in their town centre on Saturday afternoon (March 6th). According to the officers, anti-lockdown activists were expected to descend for an illegal protest on Richmond Green, a medieval jousting tournament venue and today’s popular picnic location.
The event was promoted by various anti-lockdown groups on social media as a ‘music event’ and ‘festival’. A group called ‘Jam for Freedom’ promised ‘live bands’ and ‘food vans’. This, despite group gatherings and non-essential travel being prohibited during national lock-down. In the end, no food vans nor music materialised but the afternoon was a busy one for the Police and Parks Patrol Services.
London mayoral candidate and former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s brother, Piers Corbyn, was in attendance and urged a handful of onlookers to end the ‘tyranny’ of social distancing measures, calling the presence of police officers a sign of a ‘new world order’. He was seen being led away by the police and later issued a statement on social media saying he was given a fixed penalty notice and arrested for attracting a crowd.
Such actions ‘selfish’
The movement behind the event, ‘the Great Reopening’, have been circulating advice on how to bypass government restrictions relating to social gatherings and business closures. Flyers promoting Saturday’s protest were distributed on social media and messaging service Telegram. Invitations encouraged people to bring musical instruments and Bluetooth speakers for an afternoon of song, music and dance.
Only days earlier the Richmond council leader, Gareth Roberts, urged people to comply with Covid-19 regulations, saying the council takes ‘a dim view of any group or organisation that encourages people to gather in public spaces’, calling such actions ‘selfish’ and warning that ‘the Police will take action.’
As people started to arrive on the Green, many carrying musical instruments, the police were quick to disperse the groups and direct people away. Most of the activists could be seen without face masks and not observing social distancing guidelines.
One protester being arrested pleaded with onlookers to ‘call the police’ saying he was being ‘abducted’. His friends shouted objections at the police, saying they had no right to arrest him, citing the Magna Carta.
Activists campaigning for ‘freedom’ and ‘rights’
One local resident called protesters ‘covidiots’ and expressed annoyance at people who flout social distancing rules. Another resident thanked police for their prompt action and explained that the area saw a big increase in antisocial behaviour during the previous lockdowns which frustrated locals to the extent that some have moved away from the area.
An activist, Terry, told he was campaigning for ‘freedom’ and ‘rights’ and wanted to ‘wake people up’ from ‘tyranny’ of lockdown regulations. When asked about the timing of the protest, days before the regulations are set to start to ease, he outlined a conspiracy theory involving the Government having secretly decided to extend the lockdown rules until July or indefinitely.
Multiple protesters were detained by the police, with a total of 15 people being arrested at the event according to media reports.
Despite promises of big future demonstrations and mass defiance of lockdown regulations, the re-opening movement is not supported by the general public. According to YouGov poll of February, a majority (72%) thought the Government relaxation of lockdown rules was ‘just right’ or ‘too quick’ with only 16% finding the plan too slow.