Lockdown protesters in Portsmouth branded 'prats' as Jeremy Corbyn's brother Piers urges people to 'hug against the Covid con'

DEFIANT anti-mask and anti-lockdown demonstrators have been branded ‘irresponsible prats’ after they flouted social distancing rules to hug one another during a protest against coronavirus restrictions in Portsmouth.

By Tom Cotterill
Saturday, 19th September 2020, 4:12 pm
Updated Saturday, 19th September 2020, 11:32 pm

More than 100 coronavirus disbelievers joined the rally at Guildhall Square on Saturday – which was led by Piers Corbyn, the older brother of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

In flagrant disregard of strict social distancing rules, Mr Corbyn encouraged the jubilant crowd of campaigners – which included young children among its ranks – to embrace those next to them.

‘We shouldn’t be distancing,’ he told his audience from the steps of Portsmouth’s Guildhall building. ‘We should be hugging against the Covid “con” and I want you to do this now – hug your neighbour now.’

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Pictured: Piers Corbyn encouraging protesters to hug each other at the event. Picture: Habibur Rahman

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But the 73-year-old activists’ actions – which have previously seen him being fined £10,000 for staging anti-lockdown rallies – have since been blasted by the wife of a North End man who died after becoming infected with coronavirus.

Widowed mum-of-one Sarah Merrix, whose husband Dom died in April from Covid-19, said: ‘I think that people don’t want to listen, or want to think it’s real because they have not been affected – we know it’s real, we know how devastating it is.

‘It angers me to think people don’t want to believe it’s real, it angers me to see people all over Facebook and Twitter saying “it’s a joke, it’s not real, it’s a con”.

Bananas: Piers Corbyn waggles a plastic banana in the air as he told the crowd they shared DNA with the popular yellow fruit Picture: Habibur Rahman

‘Everyday I wake up to an empty bed, everyday my 10-year-old asks why her daddy was the one that had to die, she has to do things that her dad did with her, Dom’s family couldn’t attend his funeral and most still have not been able to come and see us.’

Cabinet minister Penny Mordaunt labelled the protesters ‘complete and utter prats’.

Speaking to The News, the Portsmouth North MP said: ‘This protest appears not to be raising legitimate questions about how we protect people and the economy, but instead is claiming coronavirus is a hoax. It is actively trying to get people to ignore social distancing and basic hygiene.

‘This is reckless, irresponsible and just plain stupid. I hope that everyone in our community, whatever their views on restrictions and what should happen next, sends a strong message to these complete and utter prats.’

Portsmouth for Freedom campaigners holding signs. Picture: Habibur Rahman

During the rally, Mr Corbyn accused the ‘mainstream media’ of spreading ‘government lies’ about the coronavirus pandemic.

As well as branding the pandemic ‘a con’, Mr Corbyn repeated defunct claims 5G communication masts were helping to spread Covid-19.

‘Are you stupid or not?’ he asked the audience at one point. ‘You’re not. But the government is making people stupid.’

Piers Corbyn giving a speech at the event Picture: Habibur Rahman

Carol Eyre was among those protesting at the event. The 56-year-old, of Waterlooville, vehemently opposed wearing a mask and insisted the coronavirus pandemic was a hoax – despite the virus having killed more than 41,700 people in the UK and infected millions more worldwide.

The mother-of-four said: ‘Masks are ineffective. It’s mental torture. We’re here today standing up for our children and our children’s human rights because that’s what the government are taking away.’

Her 52-year-old brother, who is a builder from Portsmouth but asked not to be named, was frustrated by ‘inconsistencies’ in government strategy about the virus and said he was ‘trying to find out more information’ about the pandemic during the rally.

He added: 'I’ll never wear a mask. People are saying we’re being selfish but I think it’s the other way round. We’re not being selfish. Masks won’t stop coronavirus.’

The rally came as thousands of people gathered in London to stage a huge demonstration against lockdown rules.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

'Raise your hands like you just don't care': Piers Corbyn arrives at the anti-lockdown protest in Portsmouth Picture: Habibur Rahman

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This protester, who asked not to be named but was happy to be photographed, said he refuses to wear a mask. Picture: Habibur Rahman
Pictured: Piers Corbyn giving a speech at the event Picture: Habibur Rahman
Portsmouth for Freedom protest held at Portsmouth Guildhall, Portsmouth on 19 September 2020 Pictured: Police at the event Picture: Habibur Rahman