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Organisers of an anti-lockdown protest in Bristol have confirmed their intention for it go ahead this weekend despite firm warnings they will be breaking the law.
Current coronavirus regulations prohibit gatherings of more than two people and while there are certain exemptions, protests are not allowed.
Officers have been engaging with Stand Up Bristol, the organisers of Saturday’s event, to explain the rules and to encourage them to postpone it.
However, they have informed us the demonstration will continue as planned with participants expected to gather on College Green at 12pm before marching through the city.
By law, anyone organising or facilitating a gathering of more than 30 people is liable to a fixed penalty notice of £10,000 while those participating in a gathering of more than two people can be fined £200.
Chief Inspector Mark Runacres said: “We fully recognise the important right to freedom of expression and right to assemble but there is a deadly virus which has killed more than 50,000 people in the UK which simply cannot be ignored.
“The Government has passed legislation for a reason which is to prevent further loss of life and we have a legal and moral duty to uphold these laws.
“Officers have spoken with Stand Up Bristol about Saturday’s protest and have made every effort to explain the situation which makes it even more disappointing that they continue to press ahead with their plans.”
He added: “We remain hopeful the event will still be postponed but would like to reassure the public a comprehensive policing plan has been put place should it go ahead.
“In the event of an unlawful gathering officers will take the same approach to policing the regulations as they have done throughout the pandemic and look to encourage people to go home in the first instance. However, should anyone fail to disperse we will look to proactively take enforcement action which could mean they receive a fine or get arrested.
“We will not stand by and allow a small minority to endanger the health of the vast majority who have sacrificed so much to protect others.”
Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens added: “I understand the fundamental role that protests and demonstrations play in our society. However, we are in the midst of a global pandemic that has affected us all in one way or another, and we have made changes to our everyday lives with the aim of protecting the most vulnerable and helping the NHS cope.
“If the protest takes place on Saturday, I want local people to know that Avon and Somerset Police has an extensive policing plan in place. Officers will actively encourage attendees to go home but, in the event people do not follow this advice to help keep local people safe, officers have my full support to take enforcement action including fining or arresting those who refuse to comply or continue to breach the regulations.
“I understand that people have different views about the Government restrictions, but there are other ways to make your voices heard rather than holding a demonstration and increasing the public health risk posed by coronavirus.”
“I would urge those who are considering attending the protest to think about the many, many local people and businesses who have made sacrifices over the last eight months to protect others and ensure the NHS is not overwhelmed; their actions are at risk of being wasted because of a small group of people.
“This lockdown is in place to lessen the impact of the virus and this will be hampered if we do not follow the regulations. We need to all work together to ensure we can come out of this lockdown in a better, safer position.”
Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, said: “Everyone should be following the current public health advice in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic while adhering to the current rules in place around lockdown.
“While lockdown is a difficult period for everyone, the guidance and rules are in place for a good reason, to continue protect public health and we would urge those considering protests to find other safer ways to make their voices heard.”