Banned from the Stand
Council Alerts Police To Outlaw Planned Hastings Protest
A protest meeting organised by a local Hastings group to demonstrate opposition to government restrictions imposed under coronavirus regulations was planned to be held in Alexandra Park on Sunday 30th August – but banned by Hastings Borough Council (HBC) and prevented by police action.
The opposition group, styling themselves Hastings Freedom Fighters, had intended the meeting to take place at the park bandstand as a follow-up to an earlier gathering of around 150 people at the same venue on 14th August under the title Hastings Stop And Think, as reported in
our last edition (HIP 159 – Pandemic Challengers Convene Second Meeting). Some leaflets were printed and circulated on social media advertising a “peaceful discussion” and “healthy debate” with an open mic.
HBC, the owners and managers of the park, say they did not authorise either event, and sought police intervention to prevent the second meeting.
A council spokesperson told HIP last Friday: “The event held on 14th August resulted in mass gatherings in breach of Covid-19 rules, as well as complaints to the police about harassment and hate speech.
“The council will not tolerate unauthorised events, and will not authorise events, on our land that may cause harassment, alarm or distress, and/or which may incite race or religious hate crimes. Likewise, we won’t authorise events that are likely to break the government’s Covid-19 rules on social distancing and mass gatherings.”
The original meeting had certainly disregarded rules on social distancing – and made a point of doing so, since the main focus of the protest was objection to all restrictions on social conduct imposed under the coronavirus regulations, including lockdowns, quarantining, social distancing and mask-wearing. The council has declined, however, to give any particulars of what is alleged to have constituted harassment or hate speech.
The police intervened on Friday 28th August by visiting one of the organisers (who does not wish to be named so as to avoid involving her employer), at her home and warning her that, if she and her co-promoters proceeded, they would each be fined the maximum sum of £10,000 for facilitating or organising a gathering of more than 30 people – an amount which the government had stipulated under fresh emergency powers that same day. Any equipment being used would be confiscated. The police did not make any reference to allegations of harassment or hate speech. On the contrary, she says she was told – “We don’t mind what you’re talking about, but you can’t have a gathering of over 30”.
On the same evening, Katy-jo Murfin, who acted as lead convenor of the original meeting and is happy to admit responsibility as co-organiser of the intended follow-up, was traced to a dance class she was conducting, and given the same police warning. She says that even if she had sought to challenge the fine (on the ground that its imposition might be in breach of the Human Rights Act – see adjacent column), she had borrowed a power generator and speakers for the event from friends, and could not risk them being confiscated. Accordingly she felt there was no alternative to calling off the meeting – which she took immediate steps to do.
She does, however, strongly deny that there has been any racist or religious element in her group’s opposition to the provisions of the Coronavirus Act and regulations made under it. She said – “It’s a matter of freedom of speech. We’re trying to give people a voice.
“There are a lot of doctors and scientists that disagree with government policy, but they are not being heard. The statistics show that there is a 99.9% survival rate from this supposed pandemic. There are more deaths from ordinary flu. Yet businesses are being shut down, people are losing their jobs. This is a wake-up call.”
Ms Murfin says that Hastings Freedom Fighters intend to continue to organise future protest action, but “in a totally different way” that does not breach the emergency regulations.
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