Police criticised for 'worrying' use of horses to control Black Lives Matter protesters after animal bolts

Police have been criticised for using horses in an attempt to control Black Lives Matter protesters after one of the animals bolted through the streets of London.

Amnesty International accused the Metropolitan Police of being heavy-handed by using horses during demonstrations at the weekend.

Thousands of anti-racism protesters took to the streets across the UK at the weekend for Black Lives Matter rallies following the death of African-American man George Floyd.

The 46-year-old was killed in Minneapolis last month after a white police officer held him down by pressing a knee into his neck. Four officers have been charged over his death.

A mounted police officer lays on the road after being unseated from their horse during a Black Lives Matter demonstration near Downing Street in London on Saturday (AFP via Getty Images)
A colleague attends to a police officer who was injured when falling off a horse during a Black Lives Matter rally at Downing Street on Saturday (AP Photo)
A police officer who was injured when falling off a horse during a Black Lives Matter march in London on Saturday is dragged away by colleagues (AP Photo)

On Saturday, a police horse bolted through a crowd of people in central London during protests outside Downing Street.

Mounted officers were called in to drive some demonstrators back along Whitehall after missiles were thrown at officers.

Video footage showed a mounted officer colliding with a traffic light and falling off her horse, which then ran through a crowd of protesters.

The Metropolitan Police said a female officer fell from her horse and had been taken to hospital. Her injuries are not life-threatening. The horse made its own way back to nearby police stables.

A mounted police officer struggles to avoid two public hire bikes on the ground during a Black Lives Matter protest rally in London (PA)

Photos from the scene showed the officer being treated on the ground, while other images showed some protesters throwing public hire bikes at mounted police.

Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, said: “What we have seen on our screens over the weekend is deeply worrying.

“This is policing inappropriate to our times. We have seen police horses charging into protesters and kettling – inappropriate even in more ordinary times, the more so in the light of guidance on social distancing.

“Horses should never be used to charge against demonstrators. They should only be used for the purposes of overseeing assembly and facilitating communications with demonstrators.”

She said the police tactics were “deeply irresponsible” and added: “The police must urgently review their approach.

A public hire bicycle is thrown at mounted police on horseback in Whitehall following a Black Lives Matter protest rally in Parliament Square, London on Saturday (PA)

“These were overwhelmingly peaceful protesters making a serious point about the injustices of racism and they have become victims in their own right.”

But John Apter, chairman of the Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers in England and Wales, defended the force’s use of horses.

“Police horses have been a tactic for many years – police horses are incredibly effective for violent, confrontational situations,” he told BBC Breakfast on Monday.

“But what is the alternative? I hear people on social media – where we have an awful lot of experts – saying we should use vehicles.

“My God, is that really what people expect? Us to drive vehicles into the crowds? Police horses are an effective tactic.”

He added: “Policing is unpredictable and it is dangerous – what police horses are absolutely are the right tactic, they are very highly trained and we should have more not fewer.

A mounted police officer on horseback tries to avoid a bicycle on the ground during a Black Lives Matter protest rally in Parliament Square, London on Saturday (PA)

“When they are used effectively it can nip things in the bud very effectively.”

Although Black Lives Matter protests across the UK at the weekend were largely peaceful, there were incidents of disorder.

In Bristol, the statue of slave trader Edward Colston was pulled down by protesters and thrown into the harbour.

Read more: Protests roll on against 'worldwide' racism

The city’s black mayor, Marvin Rees, said he felt “no sense of loss” at the removal of the statue, while police defended their decision not to intervene.

However, home secretary Priti Patel called the incident “utterly disgraceful”, while policing minister Kit Malhouse called for those responsible to be prosecuted. Police say they are investigating.

In London, two women were praised for their bravery by putting themselves in front of protesters throwing objects at retreating police officers.

Elsewhere, the operational patrol unit of Warwickshire Police tweeted that the M6 southbound was temporarily closed on Sunday evening because of pedestrian protesters blocking the carriageway at Junction 3.

The Metropolitan Police said 36 people were arrested in London on Sunday, following on from 29 arrests on Saturday.

Prime minister Boris Johnson said anti-racism demonstrations have been "subverted by thuggery”.

He wrote on Twitter: "People have a right to protest peacefully & while observing social distancing but they have no right to attack the police.

"These demonstrations have been subverted by thuggery – and they are a betrayal of the cause they purport to serve.

"Those responsible will be held to account."