The militant anti-vaxxers who stormed the pharmacy said they had come to stop any COVID vaccines being administered, and were prepared to use force if necessary. They had the weight of the law behind them, they wrongly believed.
“There’s going to be no vaccinations taking place today while [the government rollout]’s under criminal investigation,” the group’s ringleader, a prominent face in conspiracy-infused anti-vax Telegram groups only known by his first name Matt, told pharmacy staff, in a video filmed by one of his associates.
He told the startled pharmacists to call the police, who he said would want “to confiscate the vials… and bag it as evidence”, before warning a staff member who questioned his orders: “You’ll get arrested if you carry on.”
“I can use force,” he said. “Under Section Three of the Criminal Law Act… I have the power to prevent crime with force.”
The incident, which took place on the 16th of January in the Exel Chemist in Normanton, a town in West Yorkshire in northern England, was eventually resolved peacefully with police attending and giving “advice” to the protesters. It was just one of a spate of recent attempts by militant anti-vaxxers to forcibly shut down COVID vaccine centres. All of them citing a supposed investigation by London’s Metropolitan Police into the alleged criminality of the vaccine rollout.
Many of the anti-vax protesters – like Matt, the ringleader in the Normanton incident, who described himself as a “common law constable” – are aligned with the sovereign citizen movement, followers of a delusional conspiracy theory who believe they are exempt from the law, and which has become a major feature of the COVID-denying anti-lockdown scene.
But their strategy has one major flaw: there is no police investigation. The crime reference number (CRN) – “6029679/21” - cited religiously by anti-vaxxers as evidence that there is an ongoing criminal investigation into the UK’s vaccine programme, merely indicates that a complaint has been received by police.
The number “6029679/21” has become widely referenced by the anti-lockdown movement and conspiracy theorists online. Jennifer Arcuri, the alleged ex-lover of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, tweeted the CRN out earlier this month, with a message reading: “Call the police. Shut it ALL DOWN. And whoever doesn’t, will be reported. Sorry not sorry.”
In a statement to VICE World News, a spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police confirmed that the CRN had been created after a group of complainants submitted a number of documents on the 20th of December at a West London police station. The complainants claimed the documents supported allegations of criminality in the government vaccine rollout.
Officers had been tasked with the “time consuming process” of reviewing the documents, said the spokesperson, but “to date there is nothing to indicate that a crime has been committed and no criminal investigation has been launched.”
Nevertheless, the belief that police have launched a criminal investigation into the UK jab rollout has emboldened a new wave of militant anti-vaxxers to try to shut down vaccination centres.
The campaign is being directed on Telegram groups, such as one seen by VICE World News. It provides a 49-page PDF of instructions on how to carry out interventions, along with the pseudo-legal paperwork favoured by sovereign citizens to support their claims.
Citing the non-existent police investigation as its justification, the document explains that the objective of the visits is to get police to attend in order to arrest people committing crimes, and collect vaccination vials as evidence relating to the supposed criminal investigation. It falsely claims that police are obliged to seize the vaccine as evidence, and if they failed to do so they were committing misconduct and perverting the course of justice.
It also falsely claimed that the protesters had the ability to use force to prevent “crimes” happening in the vaccine centres, so long as it was “reasonable, necessary, and proportionate.”
The number of such incidents in recent weeks is now “comfortably in double figures,” according to Logically, a tech company that combats online disinformation and has been monitoring the situation.
Among the recent incidents, anti-vaxxers threatened to arrest a police officer for assisting “genocide” after he refused their demands to close a vaccination centre, while in another, sovereign citizens citing the supposed criminal investigation demanded the closure of a vaccine centre in Stockport.
In another incident posted online on Friday, anti-vax protesters warned a staff member at a police station that they would soon be making “citizens arrests” and “closing the vaccine centres down”.
“Many individuals in anti-vaccine/restriction communities in the UK have been misled into thinking that there's currently an open investigation into the COVID vaccines and that citizen action to close vaccine centres would therefore not only be justified but encouraged [by police],” Nick Backovic, a senior analyst at Logically, told VICE World News.
“This has, as result, emboldened the individuals in these groups into action they think is lawful and justified, which explains why we're seeing such a sudden spike in vaccine centre disruptions in a matter of days,” he continued, describing their actions as “both wrong and dangerous.”
The police complaint at the heart of this wave of vaccine centre incidents was laid by a group of individuals who have been spearheading efforts to stop the government’s vaccination programme through legal challenges. They are solicitors Lois Bayliss and Philip Hyland and Dr Sam White, a GP who was suspended by the NHS over his public comments about masks and vaccines.
The group has publicly promoted its complaint as a significant “criminal investigation,” including taking out a full page ad in the Rotherham Advertiser earlier this month which featured a header reading “National emergency” and the Met Police logo next to their complaint’s CRN, calling for members of the public with possible evidence to get in touch through Bayliss’s firm.
Meanwhile, on the 7th of January, a “public announcement” circulated on Telegram groups announcing that the Met Police had launched “the world’s largest ever criminal investigation” into the UK government’s vaccine rollout, crediting the four members of the group as having initiated the case and urging people with useful information to contact Bayliss.
In a phone interview with VICE World News on Friday, Hyland confirmed that his group had laid the police complaint, but distanced himself from the actions of the protesters seeking to shut down vaccine centres.
“That’s not something I’ve been doing, or Lois or Sam, but I can’t speak for [retired police officer Mark Sexton],” said Hyland, whose firm, PJH Law, is representing White in his bid to fight his suspension by the NHS.
“It’s something I wouldn’t get involved in because it runs the risk of confrontation.”
He also rejected any suggestion that the group had spread misinformation by presenting the complaint as an active police investigation, disputing the police claim that there was no criminal investigation underway.
“Depends what you mean by investigation,” he said. “There’s certainly evidence been submitted which police are reviewing,” he said, adding that he was currently on his way to Hammersmith police station to submit further evidence about the effectiveness of Ivermectin as a COVID treatment.
Hyland denied any knowledge of the Telegram group providing guidance on how to close down vaccine centres. “I can’t comment on what other people do,” he said.