It began as a peaceful demonstration by civilised people concerned that a part of the British way of life was under threat. But yesterday's protest by the Countryside Alliance at the bill to ban hunting was marred by violence and scenes of confrontation.
It began as a peaceful demonstration by civilised people concerned that a part of the British way of life was under threat. But yesterday's protest by the Countryside Alliance at the Bill to ban hunting was marred by violence and scenes of confrontation.
By the end of the day, 17 members of the public and two police officers were injured while a further 11 were arrested, Scotland Yard said last night.
It was around 3.30pm that the peaceful mood took a militant turn as a small number of protesters attempted to break through police lines. It triggered a wave of violence in Parliament Square. Smoke bombs were set off and plastic bottles and placards lobbed at police.
Injured protesters struggled to emerge from the throng, dazed and bloodied. Among them was Thomas Brown, 34, a steel erector from Leeds who was bleeding from a large cut to the head and claimed to have been struck by a police officer.
Vehemently denying he had been causing trouble, Mr Brown said: "I took the day off work to come here and support the cause but I never thought it would be like this."
Andrew Vernon, 25, from Ayrshire, Scotland, who was also caught in the clash with police, expressed similar disbelief at the spectacle. "I saw girls getting hit just like me," he said. "There were probably about 20 of us getting hit up there. It was just disgusting." Simon Kenney, a professional huntsman from Durham, bleeding from the head, added: "I just want to tell Tony Blair that there will be much more trouble like this if they ban hunting."
A separate group of demonstratorsstaged a sit-down protest, blocking the road across Westminster Bridge. Police were eventually forced to carry many protesters away. Tony Banks, the Labour MP, told the Commons that a female MP had been "seriously assaulted" by protesters as she made her way to Parliament.
The violence was strongly condemned by the Countryside Alliance. Quin Hough, from Lincolnshire, a Countryside Alliance steward, said: "We did not want this sort of mayhem. We are not fighting the police. They have their job to do and we have our protest."
Graeme Worsley, master of the Old Surrey, Burstow and West Kent Hunt, who attended with his wife and two children, said: "This is being steamrollered through the Commons with little evidence that it really represents the wishes of the majority of British people."