HUNDREDS of people brought the city centre to a standstill yesterday as they protested against a controversial government bill.
The latest Kill the Bill protest saw Brighton city centre effectively “shut down” as demonstrators marched through the city on Saturday afternoon.
Protesters carrying banners and placards began to gather at The Level around 1pm where samba drummers entertained the growing crowd.
Speakers young and old gave passionate speeches slamming the government’s new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill, which has sparked riots across the country.
The controversial bill looks to increase the maximum penalty for criminal damage of less than £5,000 to a memorial from three months to ten years’ imprisonment, the same maximum sentence for non-sexual child abuse.
It would also grant police additional powers to restrict protests by imposing start and finish times and setting noise limits. These limitations could be applied to a protest involving a single person.
It is these plans in particular that have sparked widespread criticism, with many claiming they represent an infringement on freedom of expression and the right to peaceful protest.
About 400 people filtered out of the level around 2pm to chants of “our streets”, while police officers engaged in a stand-off approach, filming the protest from a distance.
Among them, in high-vis jackets, were “legal observers” who had volunteered to make sure the protest was carried out lawfully. There were also several people handing out hand sanitiser.
At least six officers on police motorbikes stopped traffic, as the crowd marched down Grand Parade and towards Brighton Police station in John Street – where crowds stayed for almost four hours last week.
Sussex Police told The Argus before the event that they had planned for an increased “police presence” in preparation for the hundreds expected to gather.
When protesters arrived, they were faced with dozens of officers guarding all entrances to the building.
The crowd stopped outside the station and shouted “all police are b*****”, before moving on towards the Palace Pier.
As they marched, protester chanted the likes of “Priti Patel is a fascist”, “Whose Streets? Our streets” and “kill the bill”.
Hundreds then took a seat in the middle of Old Steine roundabout, causing some disruption to the Easter holiday traffic, who honked their horns in frustration.
One woman was arrested for blocking the A259 at Brighton, at the junction with Madeira Drive.
Officers engaged with the woman, who refused to move on, and she was safely detained and arrested on suspicion of obstructing the highway and possession of cannabis.
She remains in police custody at this stage.
Almost 20 minutes later, buses and their passengers were forced to abandon their journeys after being were stuck on North Street for more than an hour as protesters held a sit-in near the Jubilee Clock Tower in Brighton.
Passengers were spotted getting off the buses and leaving on foot as the drumming group sparked a flash-mob like dance party in the middle of the junction.
“Sit down if you hate the bill,” the crowd chanted.
A spokeswoman for Brighton and Hove Buses apologised for the disruption.
She said: “Due to the ongoing protest, most of our services are currently stationary and unable to proceed past Churchill Square and along North Street.
“We are looking to resolve this as soon as possible and can only apologise for the inconvenience at this time.”
After several speakers finished giving passionate speeches to the crowd, the group, which had significantly shrunk in size, marched back towards the police station.
The greater police presence that the group had encountered hours before, was still there in anticipation of their return.
Superintendent Graham Barnett, leading the operation, said: “I appreciate there was some temporary disruption caused by this protest, and I’d like to thank the public for their patience and understanding.
“I’d also like to thank all the officers involved for their professionalism throughout.”
The protesters returned to The Level over four hours later, where they naturally dispersed.