Striking image shows police forming ring around Churchill statue to stop clash between rival protesters

James Morris
Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
Police stand guard around the Sir Winston Churchill statue in Parliament Square, Westminster, on Tuesday. (PA)

Police were forced to form a ring around the London statue of Sir Winston Churchill in order to prevent a clash between rival protesters.

A striking image on Tuesday afternoon showed at least 10 officers standing in a circle around the monument – and forming a barrier between the protesters – in Parliament Square.

Yahoo News UK understands officers were deployed to prevent a breach of the peace between anti-racism protestors and a rival group.

Activists standing by the statue were said to have “kicked off” at the anti-racism protesters in the vicinity.

It came ahead of a rally to commemorate George Floyd at the Nelson Mandela statue in the same square in Westminster on Tuesday.

It also came after the monument of two-time prime minister Churchill was vandalised during Black Lives Matter protests on Sunday. Graffiti under Churchill’s name read “was a racist”. It has since been removed.

Police stand guard around the Sir Winston Churchill statue in Parliament Square, Westminster, on Tuesday. (PA)

Yahoo News UK has contacted the Metropolitan Police for comment but has not received a response.

Largely peaceful anti-racism protests have been sparked by the killing of Floyd, an unarmed black man, by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, last month.

However, some demonstrators clashed with police during the London protests on Sunday: the day when Churchill’s statue was vandalised.

Home secretary Priti Patel said there was “no excuse for… vandalising the statue of Winston Churchill, one of the greatest protectors of our freedoms who has ever lived” as she pledged the “criminal minority” will face justice.

A man cleans graffiti from the statue on Monday. (PA)

However, Floyd’s killing, and the worldwide anti-racism protests that have followed, has prompted a wider debate about controversial statues.

On the same day as Churchill’s statue was vandalised, a statue of slave trader Edward Colston was pulled down by protesters in Bristol and pushed into a river. There had previously been a long-running campaign for the authorities to take it down.

On Tuesday, Downing Street said police must make their own decisions on whether to intervene if anti-racism protesters try to pull down further statues.

Boris Johnson told his cabinet that protesters who break social distancing or attack public property or police “will face the full force of the law”.

Protesters gather around the Sir Winston Churchill statue on Sunday. (AP/Frank Augstein)

But, after police in Bristol stood back to allow protesters to rip down the monument to Colston, Downing Street said it is an operational decision for forces to make.

On Tuesday, mayor of London Sadiq Khan said he “hopes” the new Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm will recommend some memorials in the London be removed.

However, Khan said he did not consider statues of the likes of Churchill to be included in the review.

Khan said pupils needed to be educated about famous figures “warts and all” and that “nobody was perfect”, including the likes of Churchill, Gandhi and Malcolm X.