Modern Britain seems to be getting bored of its feudal obsession with a royal family, albeit a few individuals at a time. Free speech activists in England have condemned the police for arresting onlookers who disrupted events related to the death of Queen Elizabeth II and the accession of King Charles III across the UK. Demonstrators heckled among others the disgraced Prince Andrew, who was recently embroiled in a sex abuse scandal.
Police in Oxford arrested and then “de-arrested” a man on 11 September after he shouted “Who elected him?” during a proclamation ceremony for the new King. The man was taken away in a police van and, although he was subsequently released, Thames Valley Police said he is still “engaging with us voluntarily as we investigate a public order offence,” the BBC reported.
In another incident, the announcement or the royal proclamation of Charles III as King was met with some heckles and boos on Sunday in Scotland’s Edinburgh. Some members of the crowd who gathered in central Edinburgh to hear the Lord Lyon King of Arms formally announce King Charles III’s succession from Queen Elizabeth II responded with boos.
A louder chant of ‘God Save the King’ and soon the national anthem with a three-gun salute drowned out the individual sounds of boos and jeers.
Soon after, a woman appeared from the crowd with a banner that read ‘Abolish Monarchy’ along with an expletive. There were people applauding when the police took her away but some members of the crowd could be heard saying: “Let her go. This is free speech.”
In Edinburgh again, police arrested a young man and woman and charged them with breaching the peace in two separate incidents on 11 and 12 September. Videos shared on social media showed the man calling Prince Andrew “a sick old man” as the Duke of York walked behind the queen’s hearse in a funeral procession.
Some upset mourners shoved the man away before he was arrested. Speaking to reporters later, he said, “Powerful men shouldn’t be allowed to commit sexual crimes and get away with it.”
An associate of the late American paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, Prince Andrew settled a civil lawsuit in February. He had been accused of sexually abusing a minor. The Duke of York had earlier been stripped of his royal patronages and honorary military titles after a disastrous BBC interview in 2020 where he had denied ever meeting his alleged victim, whom he had been photographed with.
In London, police told a barrister on 12 September that he would potentially face arrest for “offending people” if he wrote, “Not my King” on a placard of paper. Speaking to ITV today, the barrister said that “we need to allow people to protest peacefully the political accession of a monarch.”
A free speech activist, Ruth Smeeth, the chief executive of Index on Censorship, described these incidents as “deeply concerning,” telling the BBC that “we must guard against this event being used, by accident or design, to erode in any way the freedom of expression that citizens of this country enjoy.”
Police officers have a “duty to protect people’s right to protest as much as they have a duty to facilitate people’s right to express support, sorrow, or pay their respects,” Big Brother Watch director Silkie Carlo added.
After spending the night at St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh, the queen’s coffin will be flown to London on Tuesday, and Elizabeth will be laid to rest at Windsor Castle after a state funeral on 19 September.