Scotland Yard have relented at the 11th hour over their decision to deny Donald Trump protesters permission for a sound system on their planned London march.
Organisers had vowed to launch legal action against the Metropolitan police after they were forbidden from using a stage and sound system for the demonstration on Friday, due to public safety fears.
But late on Thursday night, event organiser Michael Chessum tweeted to say the force had backed down, and were permitting the use of a “major PA system”. He said the Met had said in an email: “We have felt compelled to do this because of the extent of media coverage.”
Organisers of Friday’s Stop Trump rally said the Met had suddenly denied permission for the erection of a stage two days before their “peaceful and family friendly” protest was due to take place, a move they said was unprecedented in demonstrations they had previously taken part in.
Earlier on Thursday, Chessum said the police had refused to meet organisers and a letter had been sent to the Met about potential legal action.
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“The police knew well in advance that we were planning to put a stage in the beginning of the protest,” said Chessum. “At two days’ notice, they’ve cancelled permission for that stage and effectively for a sound system because they said no vehicle can come anywhere near the area.”
The Met issued a statement saying it had received a notification last week from the organisers of their intention to bring a vehicle-mounted stage into Portland Place, where the march was due to start before protesters head along Regent Street to Trafalgar Square. “As is usual, the Met asked the organisers for a crowd management and safety plan which as organisers they have overarching responsibility for,” it said. “The Met received diagrams of where the vehicle was to be positioned, with no mention of stewarding for this particular aspect of the event.”
Chessum said the statement was “ridiculous”. He said: “They never asked us for a stewarding plan for the stage itself, we could easily have provided that. We have a huge stewarding operation in place.
“They’ve got a point to the extent that a stage is a static object against which a crowd crush can happen. But in terms of preventing nasty crowd situations, as a steward I can get on a stage, I can have a vantage point. I can direct the crowd and communicate with them. If there’s an emergency, I can use the big PA system.”
Part of the right to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, Chessum added, was that “the police and the state cannot place totally arbitrary and unreasonable limitations on a protest, and that’s what we’re looking at here”.
“I’ve organised many protests over the years. I was chief steward on most of the student demonstrations of 2010. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the police quite this jittery and unreasonable,” he added.
Late on Thursday night, Chessum issued his update on Twitter, in which he said the police had “backed down” and allowed use of a PA system.
A massive thank you to @RaviNa1k and @ITNSolicitors without whom we would never have got this permission at the last minute under threat of judicial review.— Michael Chessum (@michael_chessum) July 12, 2018
Bizarre and troubling that it took legal action to even get @metpoliceuk to speak to us properly.
Also on Thursday night, Ravi Naik, of ITN Solicitors who had been instructed to challenge the Met’s decision and had sent a pre-action letter to the force, said he was glad the Met had changed its stance.
UPDATE: Pleased to say the Met have reconsidered their decision. Full PA in place tomorrow. Great news. Thanks also to @judebunting @DoughtyStPublic for your terrific advice and help on this #TrumpProtest— Ravi Naik (@RaviNa1k) July 12, 2018
More than 60,000 people have indicated they will attend the march in central London on Friday. A further 10,000 people are expected to take part in a separate women’s march along the same route earlier in the day.
On Thursday, protesters gathered outside the US ambassador’s Regent’s Park residence, Winfield House, where Trump was due to stay.
Demonstrators holding placards, drums, bells and even pots, colanders and metal spoons were kept at bay by a large metal fence, which had been specially erected for the president’s visit.
Chants included “Hey Trump, what do you say? How many kids did you take today?”, in reference to his detention and separation of migrants from their children at the Mexican border. Others shouted: “Say it loud say it clear, Donald Trump’s not welcome here,” or, simply, “fuck Trump”.
Retired teacher Dianne Ward, 66, and her husband, John, also 66, travelled from Leeds to join the protest.
She said: “It breaks my heart that there are kids that have been separated from their parents – whatever the rights or wrongs are. You just can’t do that. That was the tipping point for me to come down and make a stand.”
Simon Katz, 51, from London, was also motivated by the “inexcusable” policy of separating children from parents. He said: “We should receive Trump harshly. He’s an embodiment of the perversion of truth and needs to be challenged.”
American student Madeleine Richardson Graham, 20, from Philadelphia, said she thought the protests were “amazing”. She said: “Everything Trump does stands against me or someone I know. It’s so appalling the way he’s represented us on the world stage, so I think this is a great welcome.”
Organisers said Friday’s protest would be family friendly and peaceful.
But the US embassy warned Americans in the UK to “keep a low profile” during Trump’s visit over fears that demonstrations could turn violent. “Be aware of your surroundings [and] exercise caution if unexpectedly in the vicinity of large gatherings that may become violent,” the embassy warned.
The Met was not able to provide further comment on the PA system late Thursday night.
The police have also imposed tight restrictions on protests on Saturday in support of Trump and jailed far-right leader Tommy Robinson in an effort to prevent “serious disorder”. A “Welcome Trump” rally is expected to start at the US embassy in London and proceed to Whitehall, where it will join a “Free Tommy Robinson” rally. Restrictions have also been imposed on a counter demonstration.
The Met said it was imposing restrictions under the Public Order Act 1996 following violence at a pro-Robinson event last month in which five officers were injured and there were nine arrests. Some defenders of Robinson, who founded the English Defence League, were seen performing Nazi salutes and throwing metal barriers, bottles and other objects at police.