BY JAMES TWOMEY
A protest that blocked immigration officers from transporting a man who had been arrested on immigration offences was down to a “strong community”, neighbours have said.
The man is reportedly Nigerian and is believed to have overstayed his visa.
The protest began last Saturday when neighbours in Evan Cook Close, Peckham noticed an immigration officer van parked in the street.
Once it was understood that the officers were there to arrest one of their neighbours, residents of the close began to block the van and “came to his defence”.
It took a couple of hours for the crowd of protesters to grow in the hundreds following appeals on social media for people to join, and in the late afternoon, the police announced they would be releasing the man.
Evan Cook Close resident, Steven Hitchins said the scenes were “euphoric” when the police made their announcement, and that it was a result of a strong community on the close and across South London.
“It was an incredible few hours,” said Mr Hitchens. “I’ve never seen anything like it.
It was just amazing to see how many people from the surrounding community and also how many of our neighbours came.”
At one point, the protest descended into violence as police officers attempted to move protesters out of the way of the van.
“There had been a lot of scuffles,” said Mr Hitchens. “I saw protesters on the floor. I saw one woman holding her friend crying. The police just started trying to pull people and push people.
“And then if people weren’t moving, they were pushing them to the floor and stamping on them.”
Mr Hitchens said: “After the past few years, we’ve had, just that coming together en masse of people and defending one of our neighbours, one of our members of the community.
“He’s just a quiet and unassuming man. When I’m washing my car, he’ll come out and we’ll have a
joke, he’s just a normal human being neighbour.”
A Met spokesman said: “One man had been arrested by Home Office Immigration Enforcement officers.
He was later bailed by them and released at the scene.
“Officers may be called upon to prevent a breach of the peace and to deal with allegations of further criminal offences.
“We recognise operations of this nature can lead to strong reactions.
“However where the safety of staff from other organisations carrying out their lawful duties is endangered,
we have a responsibility to take appropriate action.”
Protesters block an immigration van with a detained man inside Picture: Steven Hitchens