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London braces for chaos as hooligans and far-right thugs threaten clashes with BLM protesters

A senior Black Lives Matter organiser has called for Winston Churchill’s statue to be removed from Parliament Square ahead of today’s protest, which is under threat of violence from football hooligans and far-right thugs. 

Imarn Ayton, 29, a figurehead of the movement who has given speeches alongside Star Wars actor John Boyega, said a monument to ‘any man’ who has made racist comments  – including the wartime PM – is offensive and belongs in a museum.

But she urged campaigners to stay away from the streets of London for fear of rallies exploding into a ‘race war’ against the far-right, who are flocking to the capital to defend targeted statues.  

Hooligan groups raised a call to arms this morning for supporters to head to Whitehall at the same time George Floyd demonstrators are marching from Hyde Park.

The Democratic Football Lads Alliance, which is rallying ‘football lads, patriots, veterans and people who just love their country’, insists it is not forming a counter-protest but is instead on a ‘protection mission’.   

Yet Mayor of London Sadiq Khan pointed to ‘intelligence’ which showed many were spoiling for a fight as he defended his decision to board up statues in Westminster.

He told Radio 4’s Today programme this morning: ‘We have intelligence that extreme far right groups are coming to London, they say to protect the statues but we think these statues could become a flash point for violence. 

‘And we are worried in far-right groups getting involved in violence, vandalism and disorder with those protesting as part of the BLM movement. 

‘And that’s one of the reasons why I’m asking people to stay away from central London

Police are still bracing for large crowds to take to the streets, as they did yesterday in Trafalgar Square despite pleas from Boris Johnson not to attend for fear of spreading coronavirus.

Scotland Yard is desperate to keep control of London after last weekend’s largely peaceful protest was hijacked by pockets of violence, which targeted constables.

Police chiefs have imposed a 5pm curfew on the demonstration and warned that officers are ready to make arrests.

Rallies are also planned in other cities across the UK,  including Newcastle, Liverpool, Southport, Tamworth, Shrewsbury, Barry, Reading, Slough, Croydon, Chelmsford, Kings Lynn and Hemel Hempstead. 

Asked if she believes Winston Churchill statue should be removed, Ms Ayton said: ‘Yes I do I believe these statues should be moved to a museum I think it’s a win win for everyone. It no longer offends the black nation, but we get to keep our history and keep those that would like to see that. 

Asked why it was offensive, she said: ‘Any statue of people who has spoken negatively towards black people is going to be offensive. Any man.’ 

In further developments: 

  • Priti Patel called on the mayor to uncover the bronze sculpture immediately. ‘We should free Churchill, a hero of our nation, who fought against fascism and racism in this country and Europe,’ said the Home Secretary.
  • Churchill’s grandson, Nicholas Soames, said covering up his statue in Parliament Square was a national humiliation. 
  • Police said they could face a ‘perfect storm’ today after a network of football hooligans and extremists said they would rally to ‘defend’ national monuments. 
  • In an attempt to diffuse tensions, the campaign group Black Lives Matter urged supporters not to travel to the capital in case they came under attack. 
  • More than a dozen anti-racist marches are scheduled to take place across the country today. Bolton Council’s leader has ordered a two-metre steel fence to be built around the town’s cenotaph over fears it could be targeted. 
  • Dozens of town halls are reviewing the status of monuments after a statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston was toppled in Bristol last weekend and thrown into the harbour. 
  • Sadiq Khan has also ordered protection for monuments to Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square and to George Washington and King James II in Trafalgar Square. 

A protective covering surrounding the statue of former British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill in Parliament Square, London

Activists, some wearing face coverings or face masks as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, hold placards as they attend a Black Lives Matter protest at Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square yesterday

Activists, some wearing face coverings or face masks as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, hold placards as they attend a Black Lives Matter protest at Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square yesterday

Construction workers fence the equestrian statue of Charles I at Charing Cross against possible defacement by the Black Lives Matter protesters in London

Construction workers fence the equestrian statue of Charles I at Charing Cross against possible defacement by the Black Lives Matter protesters in London

The statue of Nelson Mandela in Parliament Square, London, is boarded up following a raft of Black Lives Matter protests that took place across the UK last weekend

The statue of Nelson Mandela in Parliament Square, London, is boarded up following a raft of Black Lives Matter protests that took place across the UK last weekend

Workers assemble scaffolding around the statue of Robert Clive in Whitehall, in anticipation of further protests tomorrow

Workers assemble scaffolding around the statue of Robert Clive in Whitehall, in anticipation of further protests tomorrow

The statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square, London, is boarded up following a raft of Black Lives Matter protests took place across the UK last weekend

The statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square, London, is boarded up following a raft of Black Lives Matter protests took place across the UK last weekend

Thousands of Black Lives Matter protesters turned out in London today despite Boris Johnson's calls to abandon demonstrations

Thousands of Black Lives Matter protesters turned out in London today despite Boris Johnson’s calls to abandon demonstrations

Imarn Ayton, one of the coordinators who last week gave a speech alongside Star Wars actor John Boyega, this morning urged BLM activists not to come for to avoid the rally exploding into a ‘race war’.

She told BBC Today: ‘I think everyone is very worried about any type of race war that could occur because that takes away from what we’re trying to achieve, which is abolishing institutional racism and a massive war on a Saturday because of far-right takes away everything we’re trying to achieve over the last week.’

Nick Knowles, from Hope Not Hate, this morning told BBC Today : ‘If you look whose planning to come into London today, you have seasoned football hooligans… BNP protesters. 

‘You have some who are concerned about statues, but others who are looking for a fight and have openly said this on their social media channels.’

Denise Richards, one of the organisers of the recent wave of BLM protests, said many activists would avoid London today for fear of violent clashes.

She said: ‘No I won’t be coming to London, initially that was the plan but hearing what the far right were planning to do, for our chapter it was a non-starter.

Asked why she was backing off, she added: ‘If we don’t give into threats, people will lose their lives… I just don’t think it’s worth us losing our lives.’ 

Senior police officers have warned that any violence ‘will not be tolerated’ amid fears of clashes with pro-statue protesters who are also due to gather in the capital to defend’ monuments. 

Police fear they could potentially face a ‘perfect storm’ of people looking to defend the statues alongside football hooligans from the Democratic Football Lads Alliance and far-right group Britain First. However Tommy Robinson, who previously said he would attend the demonstration, has now said he will not be there.

The BLM route mandated by police starts at Hyde Park and goes to Park Lane, Hyde Park Corner, Piccadilly, Piccadilly Circus, Haymarket, Cockspur Street, Trafalgar Square before finishing in Whitehall, north of the police barrier.

Conditions imposed by Met Police, mean that a number of the statues in Parliament Square -including Winston Churchill’s – will only be accessible to pro-statue protesters. 

Right-wing groups will have to assemble in Parliament Square and Whitehall, and must remain south of the police barrier. 

Met Police commander Bas Javid has warned that ‘violence’ and ‘criminal behaviour against our officers’ will ‘not be tolerated.’

Scotland Yard also warned protesters to reconsider attending today due to the coronavirus pandemic, with concerns mass gatherings could help contribute to a second wave of the disease.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan pushed ahead last night with protecting historical monuments in the city by boarding up Gandhi, Charles I, Robert Clive and Nelson Mandela just a day after Winston Churchill and the Cenotaph were protected after fears they could be vandalised or damaged in the protests today.

Despite there being little trouble at yesterday’s protest, it came in defiance of the Prime Minister who earlier said that anti-racism protests in the UK had been ‘hijacked by extremists intent on violence’.

He said it was ‘absurd and shameful’ that a statue of Sir Winston Churchill was ‘at risk of attack’ by protesters and ‘the only responsible course of action is to stay away from these protests’. 

Met Police commander Bas Javid said: ‘I absolutely understand why people want to make their voices heard – there is a really strong depth of feeling out in the communities, but the Government direction is that we remain in a health pandemic and people are asked not to gather in large groups. 

What other protests are planned? 

Saturday: Newcastle, Liverpool, Southport, Tamworth, Shrewsbury, Barry, Reading, Slough, Croydon, Chelmsford, Kings Lynn and Hemel Hempstead.

Sunday:  Leeds, Chesham and Telford.

 

‘By doing so, you are putting your own safety, and that of your family or friends at risk. We are asking you not to come to London, and let your voices be heard in other ways.

‘We all saw the crowds that came together last weekend, and the demonstration on the whole was peaceful and reinforced the legitimacy of feelings within our communities.

‘However on both days, there was a minority intent on disorder, which resulted in incidents of violence and criminal behaviour, and assaults against our officers. This cannot be tolerated.’

It comes police allowed thousands of Black Lives Matter protesters to file through central London lsast night. Demonstrators made their way to Trafalgar Square from Hyde Park freely. But police nabbed two ‘known’ activists who were wanted for questioning over previous protests. 

Meanwhile Mayor Sadiq Khan was last night accused of caving in to mob by covering up Winston Churchill’s statue. Priti Patel called on the mayor to uncover the bronze sculpture immediately. ‘We should free Churchill, a hero of our nation, who fought against fascism and racism in this country and Europe,’ said the Home Secretary. 

Mr Khan defended his decision, insisting that ‘prevention is better than the cure’. His allies said Mr Johnson oversaw the boarding-up of Parliament Square statues three times as mayor.

It comes as police chiefs have slammed Priti Patel after she called for a clampdown on Black Lives Matters protesters. One chief constable told The Times that her demands were a ‘chilling abuse of power’. 

Around 20 officers moved through large crowds of peaceful protesters sitting on the grass to seize a demonstrator today and escort him to nearby police vans

Around 20 officers moved through large crowds of peaceful protesters sitting on the grass to seize a demonstrator today and escort him to nearby police vans

People wearing masks and holding signs participate in a Black Lives Matter protest march in Park Lane, London earlier today

People wearing masks and holding signs participate in a Black Lives Matter protest march in Park Lane, London earlier today

Activists, some wearing face coverings or face masks as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, hold placards as they attend a Black Lives Matter protest march as it passes in front of Buckingham Palace today

Activists, some wearing face coverings or face masks as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, hold placards as they attend a Black Lives Matter protest march as it passes in front of Buckingham Palace today

Campaigners march down London's Park Line today, some holding skateboards marked with BLM (Black Lives Matter)

Campaigners march down London’s Park Line today, some holding skateboards marked with BLM (Black Lives Matter)

Activists held up signs as they protested in the capital today in response to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month

Activists held up signs as they protested in the capital today in response to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month

Demonstrators hold signs as they march during a Black Lives Matter protest in London, following the death of George Floyd

Demonstrators hold signs as they march during a Black Lives Matter protest in London, following the death of George Floyd

A man shouts into a megaphone today during the latest Black Lives Matter protest in London in response to the death of George Floyd

A man shouts into a megaphone today during the latest Black Lives Matter protest in London in response to the death of George Floyd

A Black Lives Matter supporter wearing a face mask and face shield raises his fist during a sit down gathering in London today

A Black Lives Matter supporter wearing a face mask and face shield raises his fist during a sit down gathering in London today

A Black Lives Matter speaker talks to crowds near Speaker's Corner in London's Hyde Park where a sit down gathering was held today

A Black Lives Matter speaker talks to crowds near Speaker’s Corner in London’s Hyde Park where a sit down gathering was held today

Demonstrators gesture during a Black Lives Matter protest in London today, following the death of George Floyd who died in police custody in Minneapolis

Demonstrators gesture during a Black Lives Matter protest in London today, following the death of George Floyd who died in police custody in Minneapolis

Activists, some wearing face coverings or face masks as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, hold placards as they attend a Black Lives Matter protest at the base of Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square

Activists, some wearing face coverings or face masks as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, hold placards as they attend a Black Lives Matter protest at the base of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square

Demonstrators hold up signs as they march during a Black Lives Matter protest in London, following the death of George Floyd

Demonstrators hold up signs as they march during a Black Lives Matter protest in London, following the death of George Floyd

At Friday’s protest a huge security alert was in operation to protect historic statues from being damaged and several including that of Sir Winston Churchill were boarded up.

Officers, who could have arrested more protesters for breaking social distancing rules and illegally assembling, let the crowds move into Trafalgar Square.

Despite there being little trouble, riot police were on standby aware that tensions remained high and of the previous violence over the past week.

The Prime Minister had declared that anti-racism protests in the UK had been ‘hijacked by extremists intent on violence’.

He said it was ‘absurd and shameful’ that a statue of Sir Winston Churchill was ‘at risk of attack’ by protesters and ‘the only responsible course of action is to stay away from these protests’.

Meanwhile, police officers were booed and had obscenities shouted at them as they moved in to detain two of the protesters in Hyde Park yesterday afternoon.

Around 20 officers moved through peaceful protesters sitting on the grass to seize suspected activists thought to be behind disorder at previous protests, including an anti Capitalist demo in London’s stock exchange in February.

A man in a black top and baseball cap was among those led away as members of the crowd started to gather around the officers but who were then warned to be peaceful by one of the protest organisers on loudspeaker. 

A spokesman for City of London Police said: ‘The individuals arrested by the Metropolitan Police today are wanted by the City of London Police for matters unrelated to their activity at any of the Black Lives Matter protests.

‘As it is an ongoing police investigation we can’t provide any more details.’  

Protesters holding up an array on banners

Protesters holding up an array on banners 

A protester wearing a mask holding up a sign saying 'racism is the pandemic' as the march progressed through central London

A protester wearing a mask holding up a sign saying ‘racism is the pandemic’ as the march progressed through central London

Protesters holding placards and signs walk through central London today making their feelings heard about the death of George Floyd

Protesters holding placards and signs walk through central London today making their feelings heard about the death of George Floyd

Protesters take part in a Black Lives Matter march in London. Protesters gathered to express their feelings in regard to the death of 46-year old George Floyd while in police custody

Protesters take part in a Black Lives Matter march in London. Protesters gathered to express their feelings in regard to the death of 46-year old George Floyd while in police custody

Activists, some wearing face coverings or face masks as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, hold placards as they attend a Black Lives Matter protest at the base of Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square

Activists, some wearing face coverings or face masks as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, hold placards as they attend a Black Lives Matter protest at the base of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square

Protesters take part in a Black Lives Matter march. Protesters gathered to express their feelings in regard to the death of 46-year old George Floyd while in police custody

Protesters take part in a Black Lives Matter march. Protesters gathered to express their feelings in regard to the death of 46-year old George Floyd while in police custody

A demonstrator gestures during a Black Lives Matter protest in Trafalgar Square, following the death of George Floyd who died in police custody in Minneapolis

A demonstrator gestures during a Black Lives Matter protest in Trafalgar Square, following the death of George Floyd who died in police custody in Minneapolis

Black Lives Matter supporters march down Park Lane towards Trafalgar Square this afternoon as part of another protest

Black Lives Matter supporters march down Park Lane towards Trafalgar Square this afternoon as part of another protest

Black Lives Matter supporters speak to police and drive their van at Marble Arch to lead a march towards Trafalgar Square today

Black Lives Matter supporters speak to police and drive their van at Marble Arch to lead a march towards Trafalgar Square today

People participate in a Black Lives Matter protest rally in Trafalgar Square, London today and hold up a number of placards saying 'Black Lives Matter'

People participate in a Black Lives Matter protest rally in Trafalgar Square, London today and hold up a number of placards saying ‘Black Lives Matter’

Activists, some wearing face coverings or face masks as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, hold placards as they attend a Black Lives Matter protest

Activists, some wearing face coverings or face masks as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, hold placards as they attend a Black Lives Matter protest

Activists, some wearing face coverings or face masks as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, hold placards as they attend a Black Lives Matter protest at the base of Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square

Activists, some wearing face coverings or face masks as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, hold placards as they attend a Black Lives Matter protest at the base of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square

Demonstrators hold up signs as they march during a Black Lives Matter protest in London, following the death of George Floyd

Demonstrators hold up signs as they march during a Black Lives Matter protest in London, following the death of George Floyd

Activists, some wearing face coverings or face masks as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, hold placards as they attend a Black Lives Matter protest

Activists, some wearing face coverings or face masks as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, hold placards as they attend a Black Lives Matter protest

A demonstrator gestures during a Black Lives Matter protest in Trafalgar Square, this afternoon during the protest

A demonstrator gestures during a Black Lives Matter protest in Trafalgar Square, this afternoon during the protest

People participating in a Black Lives Matter protest rally in Trafalgar Square, London this afternoon

People participating in a Black Lives Matter protest rally in Trafalgar Square, London this afternoon

An elderly Irish man sits with a Black Lives Matter protester in Parliament Square this afternoon during a Black Lives Matter protest

An elderly Irish man sits with a Black Lives Matter protester in Parliament Square this afternoon during a Black Lives Matter protest

Black Lives Matter supporters are seen during a rally in Trafalgar Square this afternoon ahead of more planned protests this weekend

Black Lives Matter supporters are seen during a rally in Trafalgar Square this afternoon ahead of more planned protests this weekend

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