Confused anti-vaccine protesters entered a test-and-trace centre in Milton Keynes on Wednesday, appearing to believe it was a coronavirus vaccine centre, where they were filmed shouting abuse at staff and appearing to steal equipment.
Video shared on social media showed the group of several dozen activists, led by former Ukip candidate Jeff Wyatt, walking through the facility holding signs encouraging people not to get vaccinated and criticising the BBC.
Wyatt, a former deputy leader of the far-right For Britain Movement, addressed crowds at a rally held before the storming of the Covid-19 testing site, where he claimed there are “millions” of like-minded anti-vaccine activists who have “woken up”.
Piers Corbyn, a prominent anti-lockdown protester and brother of the former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, could not be seen in the footage but was pictured attending other stops during the so-called Freedom Rally including an invasion of the Milton Keynes Theatre.
Protesters were filmed walking towards the NHS test-and-trace centre while a man on a loudspeaker claims that it is where the “vaccine rollout” is taking place as activists walk by a sign that reads “Testing”.
Other demonstrators are heard shouting “disgrace” and “shame on you” as staff appear to run away and take shelter in offices.
In several videos, a woman is seen unfurling a sign that reads “Reclaim NHS, End Jab” in one of the cabins before taking a large box containing what appears to be testing equipment and papers. She is seen unmasked and smiling at the cameras as she leaves the testing site.
Thames Valley police said they were aware of an anti-vaccination protest that took place in central Milton Keynes on Wednesday afternoon.
In a statement, the police said: “Where criminal offences have been disclosed, we will take swift action and bring offenders to justice.
“If anyone has any information or wishes to report they can do by calling 101 or online quoting reference 604 29/12/2021.”
The actions of the anti-vaccine protesters at the test-and-trace centre were described as “disgraceful” and faced widespread criticism by MPs.
The local Tory MP Ben Everitt described the protesters as “dickheads” and urged anyone with information to contact police.
Nick Thomas-Symonds, shadow secretary of state for international trade, described the protest as “dreadful”, at a site where “NHS staff are working over the festive season to help others”. He urged anyone with information to pass this on to Thames Valley police.
Former health secretary Matt Hancock criticised the activists’ “appalling behaviour”. The Conservative MP for Rutland and Melton, Alicia Kearns, described the scenes as “shameful, self-aggrandising nonsense”.
Helen Morgan, Liberal Democrat MP for North Shropshire, said the group’s actions were “totally unacceptable”.
Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow, said the scenes were “disgraceful”. “For months now we have been warning need legislation to tackle those who harass others seeking healthcare. Government promised to act weeks ago but nothing as yet. Enough. It’s not free speech when 50% of debate in fear,” she said.
Matthew Barber, police and crime commissioner for Thames Valley, said it was “appalling” to see the protest “escalate into something much uglier”.
He added that he had spoken to Thames Valley police officers to discuss the police response on Wednesday evening, and said that “criminal offences will be investigated and appropriate action taken”.
“All of the events of today will be reviewed to help plan for future protest events and ensure that colleagues in the NHS can continue their fantastic work in delivering the vaccine rollout,” he said.
Joe Harrison, CEO of Milton Keynes University hospital, said: “I am very sorry and angry to see NHS colleagues at Milton Keynes Covid testing centre harassed and intimidated at their place of work.
“Our staff having to deal with increasing aggression and violence for simply doing their job. It’s abhorrent, unacceptable and we will not stand for it.”