By Joe Talora, Local Democracy Reporter
An anti-lockdown protest is due to go ahead, but more police officers are off work with coronavirus-related issues now than at any other time during the pandemic.
The shocking fact was revealed by a police union chair who has called on the Mayor of London and the Home Secretary to ban a planned demonstration against lockdown measures on Saturday that will be policed by “over 800” Met Police officers.
The demonstration against lockdown measures this Saturday is expected to draw “thousands, not hundreds”, and could be the biggest anti-lockdown demonstration to date.
But Ken Marsh, chair of the Metropolitan Federation, said: “We currently have more [officers] off now, isolating or sick with Covid, than we have had all year.”
Earlier this week, Mr Marsh wrote a joint letter with John Apter, chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, calling on Sadiq Khan and Home Secretary Priti Patel to publicly condemn the planned demonstration over “serious concerns” for officers’ health.
In the letter, Mr Marsh and Mr Apter said: “We are aware that the Metropolitan Police is mobilising significant numbers of officers from across the force in anticipation of potential widescale disruption and disorder this weekend.
“With increasing Covid-19 cases being reported across London’s boroughs and the capital moving to Tier 3, any large-scale public gathering risks endangering the health of the police officers involved in policing the protest; and indirectly the health of their families too. It also poses a significant health risk to those taking part in the demonstration and the wider law-abiding public.”
The issue was brought up at yesterday’s Mayor’s Question Time by Conservative Assembly Member Susan Hall, who asked Sadiq Khan what he would do to discourage protests and protect officers “at a time when more officers than ever before are off work with Covid-related issues”.
Mr Khan said: “My message to anybody thinking about protesting this weekend is I would remind you we are in the middle of a pandemic; the virus is going up. Over the last 24 hours, 47 Londoners have lost their lives due to Covid.
“You going to a protest may lead to the virus being inadvertently passed on, or you taking it home and giving it to a loved one. Please think very carefully about whether you want to be protesting this weekend.”
However, Ken Marsh has said he wants the protest to be “banned”, and that warning people not to attend does not go far enough.
Mr Marsh has come under criticism from civil liberties group Big Brother Watch for his comments, which have been described as “deeply chilling”.
Madeleine Stone, Legal and Policy Officer at Big Brother Watch, said: “The right to protest is fundamental to democracy and is enshrined in law, it’s not a nice to have. It is not for police to lobby for protest bans. This attempt to deny citizens’ right to lawful protest is deeply chilling and displays contempt for our basic freedoms.”
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