Peaceful protests OK from Monday after Sarah Everard vigil criticism

Protests will be legal from March 29: Updated Covid rules will ALLOW peaceful demonstrations in the wake of fury at the police handling of the Sarah Everard vigil and Bristol Kill the Bill demo

Peaceful protests will be allowed under a tweak to coronavirus rules that will come into force from Monday amid fury at the handling of the Sarah Everard vigil.

Updated public health regulations will contain a specific exemption for political demonstrations as of March 29, documents published this afternoon revealed.

The change has been inserted after police manhandled screaming women in extraordinary clashes with demonstrators at a vigil on March 13 to mourn the death of Ms Everard.

A crowd of around 1,500 people gathered at Clapham Common in south London to remember the 33-year-old marketing executive after he disappearance.

But scuffles broke out as police surrounded a bandstand covered in flowers left in tribute to block access to speakers. It sparked tensions in the crowd and mourners started chanting ‘arrest your own’ and ‘shame on you’ as scenes quickly turned violent.

But it also comes as politicians condemned violent scenes in Bristol last night that left 20 police officers injured.

Professional anarchists including one dubbed ‘the most dangerous man in Britain’ stirred up the protests into a shameful night of violence that saw police vehicles set on fire.

It was the latest protest to take place after the murder of Ms Everard and attempts to introduce a new law limiting the right to protest. 

Patsy Stevenson is pinned to the the floor by police at the Sarah Everard vigil, where scuffles broke out as police surrounded a bandstand covered in flowers left in tribute.

Avon and Somerset police have condemned scenes which saw a police station come under siege last night, leaving 20 officers injured

Well-wishers gather beside floral tributes to honour murder victim Sarah Everard at the bandstand on Clapham Common the day after the vigil

£5,000 fines for people leaving the UK without permission

A ban on leaving the United Kingdom without a reasonable excuse is included in new coronavirus laws coming into force next week.

The legislation for restrictions over the coming months, as the Government sets out its roadmap for coming out of lockdown, was published on Monday.

Entitled the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Steps) (England) Regulations 2021, the laws come into force on March 29.

According to the legal document: ‘The Regulations also impose restrictions on leaving the United Kingdom without a reasonable excuse (regulation 8).’

The law says no-one may ‘leave England to travel to a destination outside the United Kingdom, or travel to, or be present at, an embarkation point for the purpose of travelling from there to a destination outside the United Kingdom’ without a reasonable excuse.

It suggests anyone who breaks such rules could face a £5,000 fine.

The rules must be reviewed by the Government every 35 days, according to the legal papers. 

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Steps) (England) Regulations 2021 contains an exemption to laws prohibiting mass public gatherings for demonstrations, as long as ‘it has been organised by a business, a charitable, benevolent or philanthropic institution, a public body or a political body, and … the gathering organiser takes the required precautions in relation to the gathering’.

The law has yet to be passed by MPs, with a hardcore of lockdown rebels threatening to vote against it. But with Labour set to back it, it is almost certainly to become law. 

It came as a chief constable whose force controversially stood by as protesters ripped down the statue of Edward Colston today insisted he had ‘no intelligence’ that a protest entitled ‘Kill The Bill’ would see rioters attacking police.

At least 20 officers were injured as a ‘mob of animals’ tore through Bristol, setting police vehicles on fire, vandalising NHS workers’ cars, hurling fireworks and smashing the windows of a police station in a ‘night of thuggery’.

But Andy Marsh, chief constable of Avon and Somerset Police, claimed the event had been ‘hijacked by extremists’ and said there was no ‘prior intelligence’ that any disorder was planned ‘on this scale’.

His force last year came under criticism for its handling of Black Lives Matter protests, during which police watched as activists toppled the statue of Edward Colston and hurled it into Bristol Harbour.

Sisters Uncut, who organised Kill the Bill marches in cities around the country, hailed the action. 

And veteran agitator Ian Bone – the left-wing activist best known for gleefully abusing the children of Jacob Rees-Mogg outside their home – also shared his approval of the violence.

As pictures of the carnage emerged, he gloated about the fires, attacking the city’s mayor who had urged calm: ‘All hail the Bristol uprising – Marvin Rees go f*** yourself’. 

‘Bristol always has and will be…riot city.’ 

Asked whether the much-criticised way the Metropolitan Police handled the vigil for murdered Sarah Everard earlier this month had made a difference to how officers behaved in Bristol, Chief Constable Marsh said: ‘Every protest and the police response to it needs to be dealt with in the context of that protest.’ 

He said today: ‘A tactical decision was made to deal with these criminals retrospectively and not make a significant number of arrests last night, which would have impacted significantly on our resources at the scene and created a greater risk of damage to property and injuries to the reduced number of officers left to deal with the disorder. 

‘There was a hardcore of serious criminals hidden within those 3,000 people – perhaps 400 or 500 people – and we certainly didn’t trigger this. 

‘By the time it got to 5.30pm, it became clear that whatever we did we would not be able to avoid a very violent confrontation.’ 

Around 3,000 activists, claiming to protect the right to demonstrate peacefully, had gathered in the city centre on Sunday for the demonstration to oppose plans to give police more powers to deal with non-violent protests. 

But 500 stayed behind to riot, and police headquarters came under siege as hooded yobs armed with baseball bats tried to smash the windows of the glass-fronted New Bridewell Station, while others attempted to scale the facade and some lobbed missiles at officers. 

The city’s furious Mayor today slammed the ‘self-indulgent, self-centred revolutionary tourists looking for a conflict to take advantage of.’ 

Seven people have been arrested so far – six for violent disorder and one for possession of an offensive weapon.

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