Extremists brought violent chaos to Central London yesterday after hijacking the much-heralded trade union protest against public spending cuts.
Trouble continued to flare late into the night as hundreds of people attempted to hijack yesterday’s massive anti government cuts demonstration.
Riot police fought activists in Trafalgar Square as violent protesters threatened to overshadow the TUC rally in Hyde Park which had earlier passed off peacefully.
A Metropolitan Police spokesman said between 200 and 300 people had gathered at the landmark location late yesterday evening.
He said: ‘A large number from the crowd are throwing missiles and have attempted to damage the Olympic clock within the square.
‘Officers have come under sustained attack as they deal with the disorder and attempted criminal damage.’
Splinter groups broke off from the main body of more than 250,000 demonstrators marching from Victoria Embankment to Hyde Park to launch an assault on the -capital’s main shopping district.
Some were hellbent on storming – or destroying – any London landmarks synonymous with luxury or money. Others targeted companies associated with tax avoidance.
Hundreds laid siege to The Ritz hotel, attacking it with paint and smokebombs. A Porsche showroom was also smashed up and upmarket department store Fortnum & Mason was occupied by about 1,000 activists.
On the streets outside, anarchists battled police. Some officers in Oxford Street were attacked with lightbulbs filled with ammonia, a sinister new weapon that can be assembled by following simple instructions on the internet. Other officers were hit with paint and flying bottles.
By the end of the day 75 protesters had been arrested and 28 people injured. Five police officers were also hurt and one was one taken to hospital.
Scotland Yard commander Bob Broadhurst said of the rioters: ‘I wouldn’t call them protesters. They are engaging in criminal activities for their own ends. We’ll never have enough officers to protect every building in Central London.’
Several splinter groups brought chaos and violence to what was the largest ¬public protest since the 2003 anti-Iraq war rally.
In stark contrast, the daytime demonstration was hailed a ‘fantastic success’ by trade unions as people from across the UK marched through central London.
Organisers estimated between 400,000 and 500,000 teachers, nurses, firefighters, council and NHS workers, other public sector employees, students, pensioners and campaign groups converged on the capital.
Union officials and Labour leader Ed Miliband condemned the ‘brutal’ cuts in jobs and services.
But during the good-natured protest hundreds of activists not connected with the union rally clashed with police in the West End.
Officers were attacked as they tried to stop demonstrators smashing their way into banks and shops.
The protesters surged along Piccadilly, Regent Street and Oxford Street, chanting ‘welfare not warfare’ as they blocked traffic and forced shops to close.
Paint, fireworks and flares were thrown at buildings, while the outnumbered police were attacked with large pieces of wood.
Branches of HSBC, RBS, Santander and Topshop were among those to have their windows smashed.
The police often had to step aside as the activists continued their destruction late into the evening.
Campaign group UK Uncut claimed around 200 of its supporters forced themselves into luxury store Fortnum and Mason – known as the Queen’s grocer.
A spokesman for the demonstrators said the target was chosen because ‘they dodge tens of millions in tax’.
The Met said 202 people had been arrested for a variety of offences including public order offences, criminal damage, aggravated trespass and violent disorder, but the number looked set to rise further.
All those detained remained in custody at various London police stations.
Commander Broadhurst, who led the police operation, added that video evidence would be used in an attempt to make arrests in the coming days.
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said he ‘bitterly regretted’ the violence, adding that he hoped it would not detract from the massive anti-cuts protest.
‘I don’t think the activities of a few hundred people should take the focus away from the hundreds of thousands of people who have sent a powerful message to the Government today,’ Mr Barber said.
‘Ministers should now seriously reconsider their whole strategy after last night’s demonstration. This has been Middle Britain speaking,’ he added.
Mr Barber said unions would now step up pressure on the Government, especially MPs in their constituencies, and launch a series of protests next week in defence of the NHS.
SALMON SANDWICHES AMID THE RIOTING
Breaking past a small group of police, nearly 1,000 protesters charged into Fortnum & Mason, famed for its wicker picnic hampers and for delivering tea to the Queen.
After forcing themselves through the ground floor doors into the area selling luxury cheese and chocolate at around 4pm, the mob ran amok. Afternoon shoppers, among them dozens of Japanese and American tourists, fled up the stairs, followed by police officers who tried to stop the occupation from spreading.
Activists made speeches on the ornate spiral staircase and baskets full of £5 bags of Easter bunny chocolates were pushed over and spilled on to the floor.
Black-clad anarchists, wearing face masks to hide their identity, shouted abuse at customers and launched into tirades about class war. One threatened to attack a customer in a restaurant, outraged that they were carrying on eating salmon sandwiches.
A group of menacing extremists stood under the crystal chandeliers and hung posters from metal stair-rails. They threatened to smash display cases full of luxury goods if the police tried to drag them out. Two others daubed anarchist symbols on the dark pink walls as smartly-dressed shop assistants tried to bring order by restacking upturned shelves. Some activists from the group called UK Uncut, which protests against tax avoidance, helped clean up the mess.
Police finally cleared the store of protesters just before 7pm.
Campaigners claimed they targeted the 300-year-old store because its owners are at the centre of a £40million tax avoidance row. Protesters also occupied Vodafone, Boots and BHS stores on Oxford Street for the same reason .
Sally Mason, one of the protesters who occupied the store, said: ‘Fortnum & Mason is a symbol of wealth and greed. It is where the Royal Family and the super-rich do their weekly shop and a picnic hamper costs £25,000.
‘This sits in stark contrast to everyone else who is struggling to make ends meet, fill in their tax returns and benefit forms and facing huge student debts, unemployment and the closure or dismantling of local services such as the NHS, libraries and leisure centres.’
Canadian businessman Garfield Weston bought Fortnum’s in the Fifties and the store is now run by his granddaughters, Jana Khayat and Kate Weston Hobhouse.
RITZ GUESTS EVACUATED AS WINDOWS SMASHED
Further along Piccadilly, extremists laid siege to The Ritz hotel. The building was pelted with paint, fireworks and smoke bombs.
Police forced back a hardcore of around 30 protesters, whose faces were covered by balaclavas and scarves, after several of the ground floor windows were smashed.
Unable to get inside, they instead daubed the words ‘fat cats’ on the walls and launched paint missiles through open windows on the first floor. Bins and a temporary traffic light were upturned on the street outside.
Around 50 people were evacuated to a function room at the back of the building. Windows of the restaurant’s Rivoli Bar were also pelted with paint while those of Ritz Fine Jewellery were smashed. The famous afternoon tea was cancelled, and walls of the building were daubed with anarchy symbols.
Neil Cox, a 30-year-old project manager from Redhill, Surrey, was staying in a room on the fourth floor overlooking Piccadilly, where the attack was launched.
He said: ‘I could feel the reverberation of missiles and paint hitting the building and other windows.’
The Ritz restaurant was reopened after an hour but only guests were allowed entrance to the building following the attack.
As a result people with restaurant reservations booked months ago were turned away.
Carla Sibley had travelled from Bournemouth to celebrate her 65th birthday with her three children, but was refused entry. She said: ‘We booked to have tea four months ago and it’s ruined.’
‘SMASH THE BANKS’ DAUBED ON WALLS
Around 300 extremists tried to storm a branch of HSBC in Cambridge Circus.
They threw paint at police officers and smashed windows. Some of the group painted slogans such as ‘smash the banks’ and ‘thieves’ on the building before trying to get inside.
The building was quickly surrounded by riot police and it is thought that one protester was questioned inside.
A Piccadilly branch of Santander was also targeted by rioters who tried to break in. The bank’s glass front doors and windows were smashed and paint bombs were thrown at the building.
‘PAY YOUR TAX PHILIP GREEN’
Owned by retail tycoon Sir Philip Green,Topshop was another main target.
For several hours shoppers were trapped inside the Oxford Street store as masked protesters pelted police who were defending it with rocks and paint bombs. Elsewhere along the shopping street, black-clad activists smashed windows and left officers ducking for cover and spattered in paint.
Topshop customers – mainly teenage girls – were still going in and out of the front door seconds before the missiles started flying. Many of them were trapped inside as chaos erupted outside.
The protesters chanted, ‘Pay your tax Philip Green’.
The tycoon has saved an estimated £285million in tax by paying a £1.2billion bonus to his Monaco-based wife, Tina.
I’m proud to stand with you, Miliband tells cuts rally… and then it turns violent
Defiant Labour leader Ed Miliband told demonstrators he was ‘proud to stand with them’ – just as the protest turned violent
Defiant Labour leader Ed Miliband told demonstrators he was ‘proud to stand with them’ – just as the protest turned violent
Defiant Labour leader Ed Miliband told demonstrators at yesterday’s anti-cuts rally in London that he was ‘proud to stand with them’ – just as the protest turned violent.
More than 250,000 people marched on the capital to object to the Government’s programme to tackle the deficit. Anarchists later broke away, bringing chaos to the city and targeting buildings such as The Ritz and Fortnum & Mason.
Mr Miliband – heckled by some protesters when he said that ‘some cuts’ were needed – was quick to say that he condemned ‘any action that was taken other than peaceful action’.
But he rejected claims by the Conservatives that he should have stayed away from the rally, which was also attended by Shadow Ministers Ed Balls, Yvette Cooper and Harriet Harman.
‘Our struggle is to fight to preserve, protect and defend the best of the services we cherish because they represent the best of the country we love,’ said Mr Miliband.
‘David Cameron, you wanted to create the Big Society – this is the Big Society. The Big Society is united against what your Government is doing to our country.
‘We stand today not as the minority, but as the voice of the mainstream majority in this country.’
Treasury Minister Justine Greening said later the rally would not change the Government’s course.
She added: ‘We are making sure that we are doing everything we can to protect frontline public services.
‘But there is no doubt that we do have to get on with tackling the financial problems we have been handed by the Labour Party. We are going to stick to the course that we have set.’
The biased BBC… marching alongside their anti-cut allies
By PETER HITCHENS
As usual, they didn’t even know they were doing it, but the BBC took sides on the TUC protest, even before it had begun. The Corporation and the TUC instinctively recognise each other as allies. Both depend on public money.
This helps to explain the Corporation’s spasm of blatant partiality this weekend. It began with a bizarre report on Friday night on Newsnight. Reporter Anna Adams provided minutes of free publicity to protest group UK Uncut, whose spokeswoman was identified only by her Christian name, Lucy.
Here’s a sample: ‘UK Uncut is a new kid on the block. They only got together after the Chancellor’s Budget cuts last year but they’ve already got quite a following. They are a social media success story and more than 1,000 of them will be out tomorrow. They think that’s more than enough to close down shops and banks.’
Protests in London
Attack: A policeman who had paint hurled in his face by protestors
So what are their policies? Where do they get their funds? Are they linked to any political organisation? No idea. Nobody asked. Ms Adams then asked the mysterious Lucy: ‘So what’s to stop hooligans or hardline protesters who really have no care for your cause joining in and making this something that it shouldn’t really be?’
Lucy completely failed to answer this question (and it was not pressed). She was too busy making banners and using the BBC to speak her mind, uninterrupted.
She did say: ‘I am concerned that the police will react with violence against protesters in the way that we saw at the student demonstrations before Christmas. But it’s up to us to be there on the streets and saying that the banks should be paying for the crisis, tax-avoiders should be paying their fair share. That’s what we want to do.’
Protestors in London
‘Curious anxiety’: Radio 4 Today presenter Evan Davis stressed that trouble on the streets shouldn’t reflect on the protest as a whole
The report concluded with some editorialising about undercover policing: ‘It must be necessary, proportional and lawful, and that’s something that many activists would seriously question.’ No doubt activists would question it, and others too. But by ending her account in this way, the reporter appeared to endorse this view. That is not her job. The Corporation went back into action yesterday, on the Radio 4 Today programme.
The atmosphere of much of its coverage was what might have been found in a Left-wing London household as Granny got out her old Aldermaston marching shoes, the head of the household dusted off his anti-Thatcher placards and the children dressed excitedly for their first demo.
There was a curious anxiety on the programme to say that the march was a ‘family event’. Presenter Evan Davis then stressed that trouble on the streets shouldn’t reflect on the protest as a whole.
At 8.35 Mr Davis said: ‘100,000 people expected to turn up, coaches are heading for London, even as we speak!’ He then interviewed Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, who warned that the march ‘could I’m afraid move from being a family event into something darker’. Mr Davis hurriedly added: ‘Not organised by the TUC though. The TUC bit will be very peaceful.’
Why did he feel it necessary to say this?
The programme ended with a jokey item in which Guardian writer Zoe Williams and advertising man Jason Berry chatted about march placard slogans. Mr Berry suggested one: ‘The real deficit is in between your ears, Mr Osborne.’
Presenter Justin Webb laughed.
There was nobody present to say: ‘Actually, I don’t support this demonstration.’ The whole programme seemed to have identified with the event. Mr Webb said: ‘I remember my mum used to go on CND marches.’
But apparently she didn’t like the way they were covered.
Mr Webb’s Ban-the-Bomb mum wouldn’t have had any complaints about the BBC’s coverage of yesterday’s events. But millions of people who pay heavy taxes on small incomes to keep the public sector afloat, and who also finance the Corporation, have much to complain about. Will anybody ever listen?
Puffed up and self-important, the thugs killing their own cause
By HARRY MOUNT
Yesterday I saw a decent, respectable TUC march hijacked by thugs, vandals and a clueless pack of self-righteous protesters.
As I left the London Library and passed Fortnum & Mason, which had been occupied by protesters from the UK Uncut protest movement, I saw them daub the front of the 300-year-old shop with the slogans ‘Tory scum’, ‘F*** the Tories’ and ‘Coppers against Cuts’. Orange paint was splashed over the windows.
Protestors in London
‘Shooting themselves in the foot’: The decent, respectable TUC march was hijacked by thugs, vandals and a clueless pack of self-righteous protesters
There were two reasons for the protest, they said: Fortnum’s supposed association with Primark, whose corporate activities they disapprove of, and the fact it is a luxury shop.
Inside, there was a scene of chaos. Beer bottles were dumped among the luxury Easter eggs. Tape reading ‘Closed by UK Uncut’ was wrapped around the Fortnum & Mason signs. Placards had been hurled all over the floor.
Police and protestor
‘Impeccable behaviour’: Police gave protestors every opportunity to leave of their own free will
Fake £50 notes with pictures of David Cameron on them were wedged into shelves of chocolate eggs, apparently an attack on the tax system for benefiting the rich.
The police behaved impeccably. ‘You can leave now, if you want, and you will not be detained,’ said the policewoman in charge.
They refused to move, guaranteeing trouble, waiting until one of them was finally arrested for aggravated trespass so they could then start to claim they were being victimised.
Still in the shop were the Fortnum & Mason employees. I asked the floor manager his opinion. He was too dignified to make a comment.
Meanwhile, the protesters had no idea what to do. Puffed up with self-importance, one declared: ‘Any staff who want to leave, can.’
The cheek of it. Why should shop assistants be dictated to by some hopeless protesters?
Outside, a crashing sound echoed as the anarchists smashed windows of a Lloyds TSB.
I don’t imagine those ignorant fools knew that the taxpayer owns 41 per cent of the bank. In smashing the windows, they were attacking all British workers.
Earlier, in Hyde Park, I bumped into Tony Benn, who told me: ‘I’m old enough to have protested in favour of the NHS more than 60 years ago – protests always help a cause.’
They do if, like the TUC protesters, they’re dignified and well controlled. The thugs I saw were shooting themselves in the foot in a mad, counter-productive, wicked way.