Nineteen activists have been arrested in connection with plans to disrupt the Epsom Derby Festival on Saturday, police have said.
The Animal Rising group accused Surrey police of “abusing” their powers after the 19 were detained on Saturday morning, based on intelligence received by officers. A spokesman for the force said 11 people were arrested at addresses in Mitcham and Byfleet in the early hours and a further eight people were arrested after their vehicle was stopped on Canons Lane in Burgh Heath, not far from the racecourse, at around 10.20am.
It comes after Animal Rising vowed to “cancel or severely delay” the race – despite a high court injunction banning them from doing so. Last week, the Jockey Club, which owns Epsom Downs, was granted the injunction against the group, claiming it had made “explicitly clear” it intended to breach security at the venue. And on Friday, Surrey police warned they “will not tolerate” risks to public safety after an Animal Rising member told Sky News she would do “what’s necessary”, including breaking the law, to protect the animals.
There was disruption at the Grand National at Aintree in April when the race was delayed by just over 10 minutes after demonstrators made their way on to the track and had to be removed by police.
In a defiant announcement following the arrests, Animal Rising said police would not stop them from disrupting the Derby. They said: “Earlier this morning, at least 10 arrests were made by Surrey police, allegedly in connection with the Epsom Derby. This comes after reports of facial recognition camera around Epsom Downs.
“Police heavy-handedness and intimidation tactics will not prevent a national conversation about our animals and the natural world. It restates its commitment to protect horses and disrupt the Derby.”
Superintendent Michael Hodder of Surrey police said: “We have been clear in our approach that criminal activity will not be tolerated at the Epsom Derby Festival. As a result of intelligence, we have arrested 19 people who we believe were intent on illegally disrupting today’s events. Our officers will be at the event throughout the day to continue in keeping the public safe and preventing criminality.”
Louise Hillwood, who claimed she was wrongfully arrested prior to the coronation and released without charge, delivered a speech at a gathering of activists outside the Surrey racetrack as finely-dressed visitors filed in through the gates. She said: “As long as there are industries where animals are being harmed like the horse racing industry, like when animals are exploited for food, for entertainment, for sports, there will be people who are willing to step in and use their bodies to put themselves between harm and the animals.”
Members of Animal Rising demonstrate near to the racecourse’s entrance. Photograph: Mike Egerton/PASpeaking afterwards, she described Saturday’s arrests as “police over-reach”. She said: “I do think it’s heavy-handed. These are peaceful protests. If I had to jump over a fence to protect an animal from harm, I would do that. What happened today with the 19 people arrested is an over-reach and an abuse of their power.
“We’ve seen this time and time again – it was just three weeks ago at the coronation where some 50 peaceful protesters were wrongfully arrested. This is just another example of that. I was attending a training day where we learn about non-violent protest. The police burst in, saying we were a different protest group and we were planning to disrupt the coronation, which was absolutely untrue.”
Quick GuideHow do I sign up for sport breaking news alerts?ShowDownload the Guardian app from the iOS App Store on iPhone or the Google Play store on Android by searching for ‘The Guardian’.If you already have the Guardian app, make sure you’re on the most recent version.In the Guardian app, tap the Menu button at the bottom right, then go to Settings (the gear icon), then Notifications.Turn on sport notifications.Jockey Club officials fear the protest will endanger participants, racegoers and horses, although they said they do not dismiss the right to peaceful protest and have offered Animal Rising an area near the racecourse’s entrance to demonstrate. The injunction granted by high court judge Sir Anthony Mann bans people from going on to the racetrack and carrying out other acts with the intention and/or effect of disrupting the races. Those breaching the court order may be subject to contempt of court proceedings and fined or jailed.
Surrey police have been approached for comment.