The protest in Trafalgar Square took place despite the coronavirus restrictions currently in place, and arrests were made after people refused to disperse, according to a statement by the London Metropolitan Police.
“Our main priority this evening has been to keep Londoners safe. We are eight months into this national pandemic and frankly there can be no excuse for people to dangerously breach regulations which are there to prevent further spread of Coronavirus,” said Commander Jane Connors, who is leading the operation.
Connors said the crowd “chose to ignore the new regulations, to behave irresponsibly and meet in a dangerous manner,” adding she expected further arrests to be made.
Dozens of demonstrators remained “kettled” by police on Oxford Street at 9pm on Thursday night after hundreds marched from Trafalgar Square despite Covid-19 restrictions and a heavy police presence.
The Metropolitan Police said in a statement that the majority of the 104 arrests were for breaches of the new coronavirus regulations.
Scores of demonstrators initially converged on Trafalgar Square for the annual Million Mask March, an anti-government protest associated with the hacker group Anonymous, which typically falls on the anniversary of Guy Fawkes’s attempt to blow up parliament and is inspired in part by the film and graphic novel V for Vendetta.
This year, the march appears to have found new recruits in those sceptical of the government’s response to coronavirus, and the crowd was bolstered by anti-lockdown groups who appeared to have somewhat co-opted the demonstration, including Piers Corbyn.
Social media footage showed crowds, only a fraction of whom sported the typical Guy Fawkes masks – or any type of face covering – chanting “stand up, take your freedom back”.
They were met with a large police presence, and footage of multiple arrests flooded Twitter. In one instance, at least six baton-wielding officers detained a protester, with one officer kicking the detainee as they were wrestled to the floor.
Footage showed dozens of demonstrators hemmed in by police under Oxford Street’s Christmas lights, which displayed the message: “With love for the spectacle, the beauty of our city of London.”
“A large crowd of protesters are at Oxford Street and continue to gather,” the Met wrote on Twitter. “Arrests have been made as demonstrators failed to comply with the directions of officers.
“We continue to urge people to go home. We remain in a health crisis.”
Under previous lockdown coronavirus legislations, those wishing to protest must first submit a risk assessment to the police, and the legality of demonstrations are dependent upon social distancing and the use of face coverings, a Scotland Yard spokesperson said.
Despite calls from Boris Johnson and home secretary Priti Patel for tougher enforcement of coronavirus laws, new guidance issued to police officers on Thursday by the College of Policing told them to use fines and arrests only as a “last resort”.
“We police by consent. The initial police response should be to encourage voluntary compliance,” the document said.
“Policing will continue to apply the four-step escalation principles: engage, explain, encourage and only enforce as a last resort.”