Yesterday afternoon (29th December) a large number protestors briefly gained access to a coronavirus testing centre and then went on to disrupt a pantomime at the Milton Keynes Theatre. The footage circulating on social media has understandably caused outrage at the actions of those involved.
The focus of attention should rightly be on those who decided to go beyond their right to peaceful protest, and instead seemed determined to disrupt the NHS in their work to contain the pandemic and also to cause alarm and distress to those families simply enjoying a Christmas panto.
Whilst we all have a right to protest, and the freedom to hold differing or controversial views, this right does not, in my view, extend to serious interference with the operations of the health service or scaring young children. We should wholeheartedly condemn the actions of those involved, who turned what should have been a peaceful protest into something much uglier. It seems clear from some of the videos circulating that criminal offences have been committed and the police are investigating these to identify those responsible.
As Police & Crime Commissioner I am concerned, as many members of the public are, that Thames Valley Police should be adequately prepared for such events and should respond appropriately.
Despite the impression given by some of the footage circulated, police resources had been allocated to police the protest, however the numbers were significantly higher than expected. I spoke to the Gold commander on duty yesterday afternoon, to understand the initial response and have spoken to the Chief Constable about the incident. A review is being undertaken to consider any intelligence gaps and to look at the escalation by officers on the scene. Less than 24 hours after the incident, it is too soon to come to final conclusions, but it does appear that, although there was activity by the police to contain the protest that is not shown on the footage, the scale of the protest and the target of the testing site was not anticipated and therefore not adequately responded to.
Thames Valley have an excellent reputation for managing protests across the Force, and enabling the right to peaceful protest is an important principle of British policing. The incident yesterday went beyond that, however, and it leaves many with the impression that the initial policing response was not adequate. This will be reviewed to ensure that lessons can be learnt for the future.
In addition there will be a specific review of forthcoming protests in the coming weeks, and of plans around other testing and vaccination sites across Thames Valley.
There is a fair amount of footage both from police on the scene and that which has been shared on social media. Officers are seeking to identify individuals and action will be taken against those where there is clear evidence of criminal offences.
If you are made aware of any footage from the protest that may have captured evidence of a crime, I would encourage you to report it online using the ‘Tell Us about an existing case or report’ form. By using the reference 604 29/12/2021 and describing what is shown in the video, officers can review all the reports made and make contact with individuals to arrange for this to be shared, looking to avoid receiving multiple copies of the same video clip.
My priority is ensuring that those responsible for criminal activity are brought justice. I have received reassurances that the investigations are progressing. The more detailed reviews of intelligence prior to the incident, and response by officers during the protest, are important to ensuring an appropriate response to any future such protests and ensuring the NHS can continue with their vital testing and vaccination programmes.