At least 22 police officers were injured in South London on Wednesday night as they tried to disperse crowds that had gathered for an illegal outdoor party in defiance of coronavirus restrictions, the police said.
Gatherings of more than six people from separate households are banned in Britain, but hundreds of partygoers had assembled for the block party in the Brixton neighborhood, as the city experienced its hottest day so far this year.
The party was one of dozens of illegal gatherings across a country still grappling with the pandemic. Even as the numbers of new cases and deaths have dropped significantly, scientists have warned that the easing of restrictions and a reduction in the required social distance between people could trigger a wave of infections.
Britain has reported more than 43,000 coronavirus deaths and 306,000 cases since the pandemic began, and this week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the country’s pubs, restaurants, hotels and museums would reopen on July 4.
The Metropolitan Police, London’s main force, said in a statement that officers had received several complaints about the outdoor party in Brixton on Wednesday night, and tried to encourage the crowd to go home, but “the event continued and more officers attended the scene and the group became hostile toward officers.”
Footage shared on social media showed the scene devolve into chaos as officers and partygoers faced off. Clips show a small group smashing the windows of a police vehicle and at least one man threatened a dozen police officers with what appeared to be a long wooden stick, shouting “back up.”
Several people chased after police officers who were retreating in a van, while other partygoers could be seen running in panic from the scene.
In total, 22 officers were injured, according to the police, none of them seriously, although two received hospital treatment. Four people were arrested overnight and remained in custody on Thursday.
Colin Wingrove, a commander in the Metropolitan Police, said such gatherings posed a great risk to public health. “The violence shown toward officers is totally unacceptable and we will not tolerate it in any form,” he added.
Britain has been under lockdown since late March, and despite the gradual easing of restrictions in recent weeks, the police have struggled to interrupt dozens of illegal gatherings, parties and raves largely planned on social media.
Some have turned tragic: At a “quarantine rave” that gathered over 4,000 people in a park in Oldham, near Manchester, earlier this month, a 20-year-old died of a suspected drug overdose, and the police are investigating reports that an 18-year-old woman was raped and three men were stabbed at another party.
Dozens of other unlicensed parties have been organized across the country, and Tony Blockley, head of policing at the University of Derby, told Wired U.K. that the police had struggled to address the issue.
“The reality is the police are going to be unable to prevent such numbers and volumes of people descending onto a location, particularly if those individuals are intent on having their rave,” he said.
It is unclear whether the lockdown has prompted an increase in illegal parties in London or across the country. The Metropolitan Police didn’t immediately respond to requests for further comment.
The incident on Wednesday followed several confrontations between the police and protesters in London in recent weeks.
There were a handful of clashes linked to widespread and largely peaceful anti-racism protests in the wake of the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis and other cases of police violence. And at a far-right counterprotest earlier this month, demonstrators threw projectiles and punched officers who were guarding boarded-up statues in central London.