Boris Johnson claims UK's Black Lives Matter protests have been 'subverted by thuggery'

The Prime Minister has condemned ‘thuggery’ at Black Lives Matter protests in Britain following a day of chaos after activists chased police through London and pulled down a statue of a 17th century slave trader in Bristol. Boris Johnson called the demonstrations a ‘betrayal of the cause they purport to serve’ following violent scenes that …

The Prime Minister has condemned ‘thuggery’ at Black Lives Matter protests in Britain following a day of chaos after activists chased police through London and pulled down a statue of a 17th century slave trader in Bristol.

Boris Johnson called the demonstrations a ‘betrayal of the cause they purport to serve’ following violent scenes that left police officers bleeding on the streets and others being pelted with objects as they ran for cover.

After thousands of people descended upon Whitehall in London to take part, Mr Johnson tweeted: ‘People have a right to protest peacefully and while observing social distancing but they have no right to attack the police.

‘These demonstrations have been subverted by thuggery – and they are a betrayal of the cause they purport to serve. Those responsible will be held to account.’

Elsewhere, one activist clambered onto The Cenotaph, the war monument designed by the British architect Edwin Lutyens and dedicated to the millions of lives lost during the First World War, and set fire to the Union Jack flag. 

The clean-up began today as council teams removed BLM placards and used chemicals to clean off graffiti defacing the plinth that held the Edward Colston statue in Bristol, and another of Winston Churchill in London. 

As demonstrations swept the UK following the death of George Floyd in the US, police stood by, refusing to intervene in what the Home Secretary Priti Patel described as ‘disgraceful vandalism’ by a ‘thuggish minority’. 

On the Colston statue, Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees said it will be fished out ‘at some point’ and it is ‘highly likely’ to end up in one of the city’s museums – with a debate set to be held over what should replace it on the plinth. 

Speaking about the general public disorder, Home Secretary Priti Patel told Sky News: ‘I think that is utterly disgraceful and that speaks to the acts of public disorder that actually have now become a distraction from the cause in which people are actually protesting about and trying to empathise and sympathise with.

‘That is completely an unacceptable act and that speaks to the vandalism – again as we saw (on Saturday) in London – but sheer vandalism and disorder completely is unacceptable. And it’s right the police follow up on that and make sure that justice is taken with those individuals responsible for such disorderly and lawless behaviour.’

The shocking images come as global demonstrations intensify after George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died after police officer Derek Chauvin put his knee on his neck in Minneapolis on May 25 for nine minutes. 

Demonstrators flouted social distancing rules yesterday to flood the streets around the US Embassy in London before marching on Westminster, protesting against racial injustice and police brutality. 

While the majority of the protests remained peaceful, violence erupted yet again, with images showing police and demonstrators suffering injuries during the melee which led to 12 arrests and eight officers being injured.

The Metropolitan Police confirmed the majority of the arrests had been made for public order offences and one was for criminal damage following the incident at the Cenotaph. 

Also yesterday, images showed Black Lives Matter protesters tearing down a statue of 17th century slave trader and philanthropist Edward Colston in Bristol and dumping it in the harbour.

Footage showed demonstrators, packed closely together – despite social distancing guidelines, heaving the metal monument down with ropes before cheering and dancing around it, with many placing their knees on the fallen statue as it lay on the ground – in a nod to the death of Mr Floyd. 

Mr Rees told BBC Radio Bristol today: ‘It’s still underwater. At some point it will (be fished out) but we’ve a number of priorities in the city at the moment, not least trying to face up to an £80million gap in our budget that we’ve been left with by national Government not funding us adequately for Covid.’

He added: ‘I think that there’s a really incredible opportunity to talk about ourselves and to make a decision about what we think should go on a plinth in the city to tell us about who we are, not just who we are but who we want to be and to really use that as a place to celebrate something about ourselves, the best of ourselves.

‘What I would look forward to is having that city discussion. In the meantime it’s highly likely that the Colston statue will end up in one of our museums.’

But Government minister for crime and policing Kit Malthouse told BBC Breakfast: ‘A crime was committed, criminal damage was committed, there should be evidence gathered and a prosecution should follow.’ 

‘There is an elected mayor of Bristol, there is a council in Bristol and it is via those democratic means that we will resolve these issues in this country – not by people showing up with ropes and tools and committing criminal damage. We have to have a sense of order and democracy – that is how we sort things out and that is what should have happened.’

But Labour’s shadow justice secretary David Lammy told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: ‘I do absolutely support protest in the incident of the Colston statue. This is a man who transported over 80,000 African men women and children. It’s shameful, shameful – we’re actually discussing whether he should have a statue.

‘People have been calling for that statue to come down in Bristol for many years. There may be a role for statues such as this in museums where there is proper context where they can think about their contribution to society as well as what they got wrong.’

A firework is set off as clashes take place between police officers and Black Lives Matter demonstrators in Whitehall, London

A firework is set off as clashes take place between police officers and Black Lives Matter demonstrators in Whitehall, London  

A protestor is pulled away as peaceful demonstrations in the capital turn violent in the wake of the death of George Floyd in the U.S.

A protestor is pulled away as peaceful demonstrations in the capital turn violent in the wake of the death of George Floyd in the U.S.

Police carrying batons and wearing protective helmets clash with demonstrators during the ongoing Black Lives Matter protest

Police carrying batons and wearing protective helmets clash with demonstrators during the ongoing Black Lives Matter protest 

But she added: ‘There are no excuses for the unlawful behaviour and disorder we have witnessed throughout the weekend including the disgraceful vandalism we saw in Bristol and the utterly appalling abuse of our police officers.’

Commenting on the desecration of Churchill’s statue, she added: ‘Winston Churchill is one of the greatest Britons who ever lived. We have him to thank for our very freedom to protest. The vandals who did this are repulsive criminals who I want to see brought to justice immediately.’

Police officers had suffered ‘serious injuries’ inflicted by ‘a small minority of violent people using the guise of peaceful protest to pursue reckless lawlessness,’ she said. She added: ‘I know that the British public will be as appalled as I am at those scenes.’

Outside Downing Street some demonstrators were seen turning violent as police officers tried to control the mass chaos and form a barricade with their riot shields. 

Yesteday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the anti-racism demonstrations had been ‘subverted by thuggery’ following a day of protests across the UK.

He tweeted: ‘People have a right to protest peacefully & while observing social distancing but they have no right to attack the police. 

‘These demonstrations have been subverted by thuggery – and they are a betrayal of the cause they purport to serve. Those responsible will be held to account.’    

Hours after the incident that saw the statue of Edward Colston pulled down in Bristol, the M6 in the Midlands was closed as Black Lives Matter protesters walked down the carriageway.

A video posted on social media showed crowds of people covering the motorway at the Exhall interchange near Coventry as traffic remained stationary on the other side.

One eyewitness claimed there were around 100 people who were heard chanting ‘Black Lives Matter’ as they took part in the demonstrations.

Many drivers on the motorway were pictured emerging from their cars to watch the protests, which began at around 5pm, and the southbound carriageway was closed for around two hours. 

Yesterday, spokesperson for the protests in London, Superintendent Jo Edwards, said: ‘Regrettably officers were faced with further scenes of violence and disorder following a day of predominantly peaceful protest throughout the capital.

‘This is a hugely impassioned movement and we understand the public’s desire to have their voices heard – however it is not right that this passion has turned into violent attacks on officers.

‘I would like to thank our officers, and those from the City of London Police and British Transport Police for their professionalism in the face of entirely unacceptable behaviour.

‘Overnight our policing operation will continue and I would urge demonstrators thinking of returning to stay at home. The threat of Coronavirus remains very real, and we need you to protect yourselves, your friends and your family.’

As the chaos continued, one protester, who took part in defacing the statue of the former Prime Minister Winston Churchill, was heard on camera saying: ‘Tagged up Churchill as a racist on the statue of Churchill because he is a confirmed racist. 

‘He didn’t fight the Nazis for the commonwealth or for anything else or for any personal freedoms. He fought the Nazis purely to protect the commonwealth against the invasion by foreign forces. He didn’t do it for black people or people of colour. He did it purely for colonialism.

‘People will be angry but at the end of the day I’m angry that for many years we’ve been oppressed. You can’t enslave people, have the largest colonial empire ever in history and they try and come like ”yeah let’s be peaceful” it don’t work like that.’ 

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that while people had a right to protest the anti-racism demonstrations had been ‘subverted by thuggery’

The nationwide scenes come just a day after Met Police Commissioner, Dame Cressida Dick, revealed that 14 police officers had been hurt during anti-racism protests in London yesterday evening which saw a police officer injured after falling off her horse. 

In a statement yesterday the police chief said: ‘I am deeply saddened and depressed that a minority of protesters became violent towards officers in central London yesterday evening. 

‘This led to 14 officers being injured, in addition to 13 hurt in earlier protests this week.

‘We have made a number of arrests and justice will follow. I know many who were seeking to make their voices heard will be as appalled as I am by those scenes. 

‘I would urge protesters to please find another way to make your views heard which does not involve coming out on the streets of London, risking yourself, your families and officers as we continue to face [the deadly coronavirus].’ 

Following the destruction of the statue in Bristol, former Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid condemned protesters’ decision to force it down, declaring on Twitter: ‘This is not OK’. 

Speaking after the demonstration, superintendent Andy Bennett vowed there would be an investigation into the ‘act of criminal damage,’ near Bristol Harbourside, where slave ships once docked centuries ago. 

Meanwhile Home Secretary Priti Patel told Sky News: ‘I think that is utterly disgraceful. That speaks to the acts of public disorder that actually have become a distraction from the cause that people are actually protesting. 

Protesters tied ropes around the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol city centre, before tearing it to the ground on Sunday

‘Sheer vandalism and disorder is completely unacceptable and its right the police follow up on that and make sure justice is undertaken.’  

The scenes come as demonstrations continue to increase around the world after George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man, died after police officer Derek Chauvin put his knee on his neck in Minneapolis on May 25 for nine minutes.

Following the death of George Floyd, three other officers who were also present at the scene, Thomas Lane, J Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao – were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.  

Earlier yesterday Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it is ‘undoubtedly a risk’ that there will be an increase in Covid-19 cases following the protests, as he urged people not to gather in groups of more than six people.

Mr Hancock said he supported the activists’ arguments, but said: ‘Please don’t gather in groups of more than six people because there is also a pandemic that we must address and control.’ 

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