More than 150 people have been arrested after anti-lockdown demonstrators descended on central London.
By 7pm on Saturday, police had detained 155 people for a host of offences including breaching coronavirus restrictions, assaulting a police officer and drug possession.
One man, dressed as Santa, was filmed being escorted through the crowds by a swarm of officers.
Onlooker Samatha Hurst told the Standard: “The mood seemed peaceful for a while then once the police were arresting people it seemed to escalate.
“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”
Scotland Yard said police had made a number of “early interventions” to prevent people from gathering and urge them to go home.
As part of this, coaches transporting demonstrators into the capital were intercepted and those who did not turn back and go home were either arrested or issued with fixed penalty notices, the force said.
Chief Superintendent Stuart Bell, overseeing the action, said: “This was a challenging day for Met, City of London and British Transport Police officers and I would like to thank them for the professionalism they have shown throughout the day.
“On Friday, we made it very clear how we would police this event, warning those looking to attend that they risked facing enforcement action if they attended a gathering in London.
"Today’s enforcement action is a direct result of those individuals deliberately breaking the law and at times, targeting our officers with aggression and causing disruption to the road network.
“Our policing plan will continue well into the evening and I would urge anyone who hasn’t already dispersed to go home."
Activists marched from Hyde Park to Oxford Circus and Regent Street, clashing with helmeted police who arrived in several vans and ran to respond to the chaos.
Officers grappled with people on the ground in attempts to detain them at different locations as onlookers jeered and filmed on their phones.
At one point, green smoke was released as protesters were surrounded by police at the top of Carnaby Street.
The main crowd of protesters appeared to disperse near Piccadilly Circus before reforming elsewhere in the shopping district.
Protesters, including some dressed as Christmas elves, brandished signs reading “All I want for Christmas is my freedom back”, “Ditch the face masks” and “Stop controlling us”.
The Metropolitan Police has warned people against joining a mass anti-lockdown protest due to take place on Saturday in central London, saying that such gatherings are banned under current coronavirus legislation. #londonprotest pic.twitter.com/TkNsfrwdOu
— The Dispatcher HQ (@TheDispatcherHQ) November 28, 2020
Several people were handcuffed by officers, while police action was met with booing as demonstrators, many not wearing face masks, ignored requests to go home.
Responding to the scenes, Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “We’ve seen our police officers yet again do incredible work to ensure that they help to stop the spread of this awful virus.
“The people that are protesting today have been protesting for many months, and we’ve seen this over successive weekends.”
She added: “We ask everybody to be conscientious – we all know the regulations and the guidance, we have brought these measures in to save lives and to prevent preventable deaths.”
Protest is not a permitted exemption to the prohibition on gatherings under current coronavirus regulations in England and those who attend risk enforcement action by officers, the Metropolitan Police had warned ahead of the weekend.
The grassroots group Save Our Rights UK, which says it is working for democracy, appeared to be leading the protest, called Unite For Freedom – Time For Action.
The group used its Twitter account throughout the afternoon to encourage people to head to central London locations.
Rights groups Liberty and Big Brother Watch argued that the right to safely protest should be explicitly outlined as an exemption in regulations covering England’s tiered restrictions, due to come into force next week.