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A feminist campaigner has claimed police threatened to arrest her for a peaceful protest at a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst, where she was allegedly assaulted by balaclava-clad trans activists.
Aleks Kovacevic, 44, was hailed by JK Rowling for standing firm in the face of “intimidation” from a group of masked counter-protesters who disrupted an event organised by gender-critical campaigners in Manchester on Sunday.
Greater Manchester Police are facing criticism for failing to intervene in what Ms Kovacevic claimed to be a minute-long scuffle, which saw her pushed on to a stone ledge by the rival group, as she held a suffragette flag aloft.
The chef from Nottingham told The Telegraph she was then herself threatened with arrest by the officers for a breach of the peace, but now intends to file a criminal complaint of assault against the trans activists.
The confrontation took place when supporters of the Standing for Women (SFW) group arrived for speeches planned next to the suffragette statue, on the issue of women’s rights being eroded by “trans ideology”.
Instead, they found the monument encircled by protesters wearing balaclavas and dressed entirely in black, who had responded to the call of Manchester Trans Rise Up (MTRU) for an “emergency protest against a transphobic gathering”.
Supporters of a group called the Anarchist Federation were also said to be in attendance.
Tensions boiled over and Ms Kovacevic claimed she was targeted by several of the balaclava-clad activists when she stood on the ledge next to the statue with her flag.
Ms Kovacevic told The Telegraph: “It was near Emmeline Pankhurst and we are today’s suffragettes, we thought there was space there and we would go and stand there because we all have our rights to peaceful assembly.
“We are literally a group of five middle-aged women. I climbed on the wall and one of [the counter-protesters] clung on to my leg and tried to pull me off, but when I jumped off the wall three of them just attacked me.
“Some were pushing me, some were pulling me. They lost their way a little bit, one pushed me so hard that I had to sit down.”
The final moments of the skirmish were captured on film, showing another trans activist separating the group and the police officer approaching Ms Kovacevic.
“The police officer was really strange about it. He told me that if it happened again, I would be arrested for causing a breach of peace,” she said.
“Nothing was done. That whole scuffle lasted a full minute, my friends and another guy had to separate it.
“The police came and told me that I needed to move, but my friend told me I didn’t need to move and I said ‘yes, as a matter of fact, I don’t have to move, I have the right to sit here’ – and he told me if anything happens I will be arrested for causing a breach of the peace.”
Officers are trained to follow a five-step appeal to avoid the breach of the peace which involves the possibility of arrest if necessary, but it is understood such a possibility was not considered necessary by the officer in Sunday’s incident.
Soon after, the footage had gone viral and was shared by Rowling, the Harry Potter author who has faced fierce criticism from trans activists for her gender-critical belief.
She wrote on Twitter:
I never expected the right side of history to include so many people in masks intimidating and assaulting
women, did you?
But she never dropped her flag. Emmelline would be proud.
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) May 15, 2022
Rowling added that the balaclava-clad protesters had “scored an unintentionally hilarious own goal” by getting “dressed up as ninjas to block public access to a statue of a suffragette”.
Ms Kovacevic said it had been “incredible” to receive such praise from Rowling.
MTRU, the trans activists who organised the counter-protest, suggested on social media the balaclava wearers were not affiliated with them, but said they had been acting in “self-defence”. Ms Kovacevic described this as a “lie”.
The group has previously targeted similar gender-critical events in Manchester, including a meeting of Women’s Place in March, which was besieged by trans activists and reportedly required police to intervene and help attendees leave the venue.
Declaring Sunday’s counter-protest a success, the trans rights group wrote on Twitter: “They didn’t get hold of the statute at any point. We claimed the space for the entire time. Well done.”
Greater Manchester Police was on Monday facing questions over its handling of the incident involving Ms Kovacevic.
Sarah Phillimore, a barrister and co-founder of the campaign group Fair Cop, said: “It is sadly not remarkable that the police chose to lecture a woman rather than protect her. It’s an inevitable consequence of a politicised police force.”
A spokesman for Greater Manchester Police said: “We are aware of a video circulating online of a brief altercation at a protest in St. Peter’s Square during a protest on Sunday May 15.
“This incident was not seen by officers present at the time but a nearby patrol did make their way over to the area as it appeared there had been some disturbance. The officer spoke to the woman and encouraged her away from the area to discuss the incident, which she didn’t wish to do.
“No reports were made to the officers, and no video footage was shown when requested of those nearby.
“However, should anyone wish to make a report, then we will investigate and pursue all available lines of enquiry.”
Harry Miller, a former police officer, founded Fair Cop to work with forces on protecting freedom of speech, after winning a legal challenge against Humberside Police for visiting him at work over allegedly transphobic tweets.
He told The Telegraph: “One of the interesting questions is what would have happened if [the feminist campaigners] had all turned up wearing balaclavas?
“I think they would have been arrested for causing harassment, alarm and distress – that is the problem.
“The police need to operate at all times, to both sides, without fear and without favour.”