Grand National: 118 people arrested over protests that delayed start of Aintree event
Animal Rising is protesting the Grand National over the deaths of horses at the event
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Officials at Aintree criticised the “reckless actions” of protestors after Merseyside Police arrested over 100 people after they attempted to gain entry to the track ahead of the Randox Grand National.
Dozens of activists climbed fences at Aintree, with at least two affixing themselves to a fence using glue and lock-on devices, climate and animal rights group Animal Rising said. The protesters breached security fences as the National runners were in the parade ring, causing a delay of around 15 minutes to the feature event, which eventually got under way at 5.29pm.
Merseyside Police said a total of 118 people have been arrested on suspicion of criminal damage and public nuisance offences, with Aintree praising the response of both police and security. Earlier in the day three people were arrested in connection with potential co-ordinated disruption at Aintree Racecourse as animal rights activists gathered outside the track before the Grand National Festival’s final day.
A 33-year-old woman from the London area was arrested in the Greater Manchester area on Saturday (15 April) morning on suspicion of conspiracy to cause public nuisance, Merseyside Police said. A 25-year-old woman from London and a man were arrested outside the racecourse later on Saturday morning on suspicion of conspiracy to cause public nuisance.
What has been said about the protests?
Dickon White, who runs the track as North-West Regional Director for Jockey Club Racecourses, said: “There was a short delay to the start time for the Grand National, due to the reckless actions of a small number of individuals. The police and our security teams, who form part of a strong visible presence on course, dealt with the incident swiftly and decisively. The pre-race parade was cancelled as a result of the short delay.
“The Randox Grand National Festival sees thousands of people come to enjoy racing and a great atmosphere, with millions following on television, radio and online. While the actions of a small number of individuals were intended to disrupt the event, the safety and security of everyone on course will always be our number one priority.”
Merseyside Police Assistant Chief Constable Paul White said: “Today, as you’ve seen, there’s been a significant protest in relation to the running of the Grand National. This began earlier this morning, there’s been a number of protests outside and then that resulted earlier on today at about 5pm with numerous people trying to incur onto the course, which we, in partnership with the event organisers, and members of the public as well, have managed in the main to stop and and ultimately the event took place – albeit with a slight delay.”
He said protesters tried to access the course from a number of points at the far side of the track. He added: “The perimeter of the course is four to five kilometres long so you know, that is a significant resource required to try and cover every area of that.
“We put a proportionate policing plan in place and, by and large, we were able to stop the vast majority entering onto the course, a small number did get onto the course, but, very quickly, they were removed, again in partnership with the event organiser, private security and police officers and staff.”
Traffic blocked by protesters
Traffic was also blocked by protesters on the M57 motorway at around the same time as activists attempted to get on to the racecourse at Aintree. North West Motorway Police said on Twitter: “We have a number of people sat on the M57 at junction 2 northbound – motorway is closed.”
National Highways said traffic was stopped in both directions on the motorway – between junctions one and two – shortly before 5.15pm, but by 6pm the southbound carriageway was reopened and northbound traffic was being diverted via a slip road. There were delays of more than an hour on the road, which runs from the M62 to Aintree.
Animal Rising issued statement before protests
Nathan McGovern, an Animal Rising spokesman, said: “We do plan to be periodically blocking Ormskirk Road, the access road to the front of the racecourse, to disrupt the entry to the venue throughout the day. The group of people at the front will be peacefully attempting to make their way over perimeter fences/walls at the front of Aintree before the Grand National race begins with the intention of making their way on to the track.
“And all of this is before the race even starts. We will not be entering the track if there are horses and jockeys riding.”
Three horses died during the Aintree Festival including Hill Sixteen, which broke its neck during a fall on the first hurdle of the Grand National.
Protests could have “endangered” the horses
An Aintree Racecourse spokesperson said: “We respect the right to peaceful protest but sincerely hope that Animal Rising reflect on whether their proposed actions are legitimate and responsible. Their actions could endanger the horses they purport to protect, as well as jockeys, officials and themselves.
“As you would expect, we are working closely with Merseyside Police to ensure we protect the safety and enjoyment of everyone, including all participants, human or equine, at the Grand National.” A British Horseracing Authority spokesperson added: “While we respect the rights of anyone to protest safely and legally, we condemn any action which is illegal, especially if it puts at risk the safety of horses, jockeys, officials or fans.”