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Park demonstrators were served with a dispersal order for breaching Covid regulations on Sunday 22nd March

Park cafe owners close doors to Sunday anti lockdown demonstrators

The owners of the cafe in Alexandra Park will be opening later on Sunday mornings  to avoid serving protesters they say are “mocking the sacrifices we have all made” by gathering in breach of coronavirus rules. Emma Harwood reports.

Two women were arrested – one for assaulting a police officer and another for failing to give their details – and fined £200 along with two others for breaking Covid regulations at a demonstration of around 30 people on Sunday 21 March.

The group is thought to have been protesting under the banner of an international movement called Stand in The Park which professes to stand for “personal truth and freedom in unity.” Its private UK Facebook group has 14,000 members who are urged to congregate in parks around the country every Sunday from 10-11am.

The demonstrators were served a dispersal order by Sussex Police and had been moved on by midday, but in a statement to customers Stephen and Louise Kelleher, who own eat@thepark, said that following the “saddening scenes” their cafe –which usually opens at 9am–would be opening later on Sundays for the foreseeable future.

“Mocking the sacrifices made”

“It seems that there are a vocal and rather agitated minority of people who consider the right to do the Hokey Cokey to be a priority over working together to reach the end of the current coronavirus restrictions, and we wish to be very clear that we will have no part of this.

“As they appear to be for the purpose of protesting and actively defying coronavirus restrictions, we consider them to be mocking the sacrifices we have all made over the past year and risking the progress made.”

Alluding to the Government’s controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021 which proposes powers for police forces to place greater restrictions and conditions on protests, they continued: “We share the concerns of many regarding recent legislation regarding the right to protest but feel very strongly that these particular events do nothing but provide a justification for those wishing to strengthen anti-protest laws.”

Ms Kelleher told HOT that she and her husband were in favour of protests and had supported others in the park including Black Lives Matter last June because their organisers had worked with authorities to follow Covid rules and had publicised their events in a transparent way beforehand.

“These people don’t do that and are privately organised so the public don’t know what’s going on either. We are choosing to close as our comment on this particular group. We don’t want to take their money because we don’t agree with what they’re doing.

“We try to stay out of politics -we’re a business and we serve coffee– but sometimes you have to take a stand.”

“Let’s not wreck our hard work now”

On the previous Sunday (14 March) a group of around forty men, women and children was filmed dancing the Hokey Cokey prompting Hastings Borough Council’s deputy leader Colin Fitzgerald to urge people to avoid large gatherings, reminding people Hastings has seen over 200 deaths, mainly because of the ‘Kent variant.’

“None of us want to go back to those awful days of December and January. We have come so far, let’s not wreck our hard work now,” he said.

The previous Sunday around 40 people were filmed joining hands and dancing the Hokey Cokey.

What are the regulations on gatherings and protests currently?

Under prevailing lockdown rules gatherings of more than two people are prohibited  and protesters may be penalised for committing a criminal offence. Police handling of the Sarah Everard vigil prompted calls from MPs and campaign groups such as Liberty for protests to be allowed under a national lockdown.

However coronavirus legislation was amended and published on Monday (22 March) stating organised gatherings will be allowed when restrictions ease next week provided they have been “organised by a business, a charitable, benevolent or philanthropic institution, a public body or a political body, and the gathering organiser or manager takes the required precautions.”

Police made two arrests at an anti-lockdown demonstration on Sunday.

But one eyewitness who arrived at the park on Sunday at 10.15 am shortly after the first woman had been arrested said she believed police had used unnecessary force.

“The police only have the power to ask people to leave if they are in a group of more than two. These women were just two and they were en route to the gates, leaving.”

However, a statement from Sussex Police said: “Officers engaged with those present explaining the government’s coronavirus regulations and the reason for the dispersal order and encouraged people to leave.”

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Posted 11:11 Wednesday, Mar 24, 2021 In: Covid-19

2 Comments

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  1. Jim Nastix

    It’s worth bearing in mind that these people are not just some happy clappy group having fun in the park but they’re from a nasty extremist group with a far right wing agenda that have previously made racist and anti-semitic comments at their events in the park.

    Comment by Jim Nastix — Thursday, Mar 25, 2021 @ 11:17

  2. Cllr Michael Edwards

    What a fine example the cafe owners are showing here. They are correct in their opinion that a small and foolish few could spoil a swift return to more normal living for the rest of us who have understood and respected the rules. And its also costing them business, I applaud them.

    Comment by Cllr Michael Edwards — Thursday, Mar 25, 2021 @ 09:25

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