Published: 19:52, 28 November 2020
| Updated: 20:02, 28 November 2020
More than 150 people have been arrested during anti-lockdown protests in central London, police said.
The Metropolitan Police said 155 arrests were made for offences including breaching coronavirus regulations, assaulting a police officer and possession of drugs.
In often chaotic scenes, hundreds of demonstrators, including a man dressed as Santa Claus, descended on the city centre on Saturday afternoon, chanting “freedom” and causing traffic disruption.
Activists marched from Hyde Park to Oxford Circus and Regent Street, clashing with helmeted police who arrived in several vans and ran to respond to the crowds.
The Met said officers made “early interventions” to prevent people gathering and urged protesters to return home.
The force said this included intercepting coaches transporting groups into London, and people who did not turn back were either arrested or issued with fixed penalty notices.
Officers were seen grappling with people on the ground in attempts to detain them at different locations as onlookers jeered and filmed on their phones.
At one point, green smoke was released as protesters were surrounded by police at the top of Carnaby Street.
The main crowd of demonstrators appeared to disperse near Piccadilly Circus before reforming elsewhere in the shopping district.
Protesters, including some dressed as Christmas elves, brandished signs reading “All I want for Christmas is my freedom back”, “Ditch the face masks” and “Stop controlling us”.
Several people were handcuffed by officers, while police action was met with booing as demonstrators, many not wearing face masks, ignored requests to go home.
Chief Superintendent Stuart Bell, policing commander for the protests, said on Saturday evening that it had been a “challenging day” and thanked colleagues for their “professionalism”.
He added: “On Friday, we made it very clear how we would police this event, warning those looking to attend that they risked facing enforcement action if they attended a gathering in London.
“Today’s enforcement action is a direct result of those individuals deliberately breaking the law and at times targeting our officers with aggression and causing disruption to the road network.
“Our policing plan will continue well into the evening and I would urge anyone who hasn’t already dispersed to go home. By doing so, you can avoid ending up facing enforcement action and help protect yourself and others during this health crisis.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel earlier said: “We’ve seen our police officers yet again do incredible work to ensure that they help to stop the spread of this awful virus.
“The people that are protesting today have been protesting for many months, and we’ve seen this over successive weekends.
“We ask everybody to be conscientious – we all know the regulations and the guidance, we have brought these measures in to save lives and to prevent preventable deaths.”
The grassroots group Save Our Rights UK, which says it is working for democracy, appeared to be leading the protest, called Unite For Freedom – Time For Action.
The group used its Twitter account throughout the afternoon to encourage people to head to central London locations.
Rights groups Liberty and Big Brother Watch argued that the right to protest safely should be explicitly outlined as an exemption in regulations covering England’s tiered restrictions, due to come into force next week.