Tue 27 Jun 2023 — 17 min

On Saturday morning, the far right violently attacked members of the Lewisham community who had gathered to protect children attending a Drag Queen Story Hour event in Honor Oak Pub.

During the attacks, the far right injured counter-protesters, and a Trans Safety Network reporter. The anti-drag protesters also broke the window of the pub whilst attempting to throw projectiles at the counter-protesters. Police later caused further injuries to bystanders providing community first aid during an attempted arrest. A local inclusive church was also attacked, its entrance and step smeared with faeces.

Despite this serious violence, the community of Lewisham rallied together to reclaim the street, and to express collective queer joy. In a massive victory for the Lewisham queer community, the far right had to abandon their protest before the Story Hour had even begun.

Who Were The Protesters?

The protests against Drag Queen Story Hour at Honor Oak Pub have been primarily led by Turning Point UK. Turning Point UK are the UK branch of far right organisation Turning Point USA. Turning Point UK’s previous claims to fame include speakers at their conference openly defending Hitler. The group has links to the Conservative Party, whose MPs have praised its work.

The Chief Operating Officer of Turning Point UK, Nick Tenconi, was present first thing on Saturday morning. However, whilst TPUK has aimed to represent itself as a more ‘respectable’ face of far-right politics, on Saturday Tenconi was enthusiastically involved in the street violence, personally offering to fight individuals, and physically moving towards and grabbing at counter-protesters. This is evidence of a clear turn by TPUK towards unapologetic street fascism.

Also present were those with previous involvement in neo-Nazi organisations. For example, Lance Wright was present, who was previously a member of the groups Blood & Honour and Combat 18.

A picture of Lance Wright, credit to Bob From Brockley @bobfrombrockley on Twitter

A picture of Lance Wright, credit to Bob From Brockley @bobfrombrockley on Twitter

The Official Blood & Honour Logo

The Official Blood & Honour Logo

Photo of weapons and a sign of the neo-Nazi group Combat 18 seized by German police.

Photo of weapons and a sign of the neo-Nazi group Combat 18 seized by German police.

The counter-protesters, on the other hand, were led by members of the local community. A group called South East London Love has formed in reaction to the far right’s presence, in order to protect and care for the local queer community. The group has been supported by many in the local community, including the local church. Ada Cable, a local activist, told me about those present in the morning:

We were mostly women and non binary people, almost all trans and queer. We're not the kind of people who like getting in fights, we just wanted to be there before TPUK.’

The Attack

When the Lewisham counter-protesters left for the pub at around 5:30 am on Saturday, the last thing they said to each other was “Whatever happens, look after each other”. The reason they had gathered at this time, the counter-protesters tell me, is because they had heard that the far right were planning to arrive much earlier than usual. They say the police have been clear that they won’t remove the anti-drag protesters from outside of the pub if they get there first - so the counter-protesters have to get there before them, to ensure a safe way for families to be able to enter the pub for the show later in the day.

I followed the counter-protesters to the pub, where they gathered outside the entrance in a line, seeking to guarantee that safe space for parents and their children attending the show. I was walking down the road to see if I could get a view of any of the anti-drag protesters. As I headed towards a vantage point, I saw them coming around the corner, and quickly headed back to the pub.

It was around 5.45 am when the first anti-drag protesters arrived. They were carting a PA and many of them were filming. All of them, from what I could tell, were men. They immediately started shouting insults and slurs at the Lewisham counter-protesters. Around five minutes later, another group arrived, including two women. There were no visible police on scene, although there was a single woman watching in her car, who I believe to have been a plainclothes police officer. There were no police on scene at this time, and no barriers. Just the counter-protesters stood in front of the pub, and the anti-drag protesters on the opposite side of the road.

Soon, the anti-drag protesters started to come towards us. Much of the incitement to violence was led by Nick Tenconi of Turning Point UK, who began offering to fight people one on one. This quickly escalated and they quickly advanced across the road to physically attack the counter-protesters. The aggressive nature of them crossing the road and trying to attack the defending counter-protesters with their backs against the wall can be seen in all the video footage, including that selectively chosen by their supporters.

The Lewisham counter-protesters were carrying flags and joined these together to form a defensive barrier. The anti-drag protesters charged at the group shouting threats including "We'll kick the fuck out of you" and “you are fucked”, and threw glass bottles and other objects. The anti-drag protesters threatened to follow counter-protesters home no matter what time they left. The far right began grabbing the counter-protesters who had no space to retreat, and so some of the counter-protesters began to hit back in very clear and measured self-defence. At this time, a TSG van drove past, seeing the counter-protesters being attacked, but did not stop to intervene.

One anti-drag protester repeatedly punched trans counter-protester Ada Cable in the face, leading to the injuries seen in our Twitter thread. Ada backed away and received first aid from another counter-protester. Ada was visibly injured to her head, which was bleeding, and also appeared to have a broken nose. Ada has since confirmed to me that they suffered a concussion, and are receiving treatment for a likely broken nose. The people receiving first aid were right next to me, behind the line. My picture of Ada’s injury was taken at 6.04 AM. The anti-drag protesters pulled another counter-protester from the crowd and started stomping on them. I saw another counter-protester who had been hit around the head, and whose inside of their ear looked mushed and bloody, likely broken.

South London activist Ada Cable crouched down, holding a piece of clothing on her head. Blood is streaming down her nose and from her mouth onto her trousers.

South London activist Ada Cable crouched down, holding a piece of clothing on her head. Blood is streaming down her nose and from her mouth onto her trousers.

Since the events, accounts such as Turning Point UK have claimed that the counter-protesters were carrying sharpened flag poles as weapons. This was not what I witnessed, rather, I saw how the far right protesters began deliberately breaking the flag poles both to arm themselves and to try and break the counter-protesters’ defensive line. One of the broken poles was thrown towards me, nearly hitting me in the head. Another flag pole was taken and thrown hard towards the counter-protesters, luckily missing but instead piercing the pub window and sticking out of it. My photo of the broken pole which had been thrown towards me, and the broken window from the other stick were taken at 6.05 AM.

Snapped piece of broom handle lying on the street

Snapped piece of broom handle lying on the street

Broken window pane from the Honor Oak Pub pierced by a pointed object

Broken window pane from the Honor Oak Pub pierced by a pointed object

The anti-drag protesters made clear they were deliberately trying to break the line in order to separate people for individual attack. With their back against the wall, holding these flags to form a defensive line was the counter-protesters’ only means of protecting themselves, and me behind them. One individual announced, “If you keep hold of the [flags which formed the line] we’ll hit you, simple as”. You can hear in the turning point UK video that they seem to be acting strategically to target individual people, trying to break the line, saying “take this one”. I watched as the group strategically descended on one individual at a time. With more flags being taken and broken, it felt like it was only a matter of time before they managed to succeed in doing so, opening all of us to being beaten. I was genuinely terrified for my safety.

I was injured when the anti-drag protesters attacked the Lewisham counter-protesters, being crushed behind the counter-protesters as they were forced against the wall of the pub by their attackers, unable to retreat further. I still have significant swelling, bruising, and pain, including a bruise in the visible shape of a footprint.

At around 6:15 am police arrived on the scene to separate the two groups. Initially, only one officer arrived, and the still-heated anti-drag protesters even began to jostle him around. Finally, other TSG officers arrived, and set up a cordon. As Ada tells me:

More TSG arrived and let them keep that space - TPUK were rewarded for attacking us by giving them direct access to the pub. I later saw that the windows in this area had been covered in transphobic stickers.’

The Police

After finally arriving on the scene and allowing the far right protesters to set up next to the pub, the police decided to make an arrest of one of the counter-protesters. It remains unclear why, given the individual was released shortly afterwards without charge.

It was at this time that Ada was injured for a second time. When making the arrest, a number of police officers suddenly pushed forward into the group of counter-protesters, and myself, who had been surrounded by the TSG following their earlier attempts to separate the group. I immediately flattened myself against the wall with my hands in the air as the police moved in. Ada, at the time, was sat on the ground performing first aid on someone next to the target for the arrest. When the police surged in, they hit her across the face, reopening her previous wounds and further injuring her cheek and eye.

As Ada tells me:

About 30m after I got punched, and after police had arrived, I was doing more thorough first aid for someone else who was injured. We were crouched on the ground, and a couple of people had stood between us and the road to give us privacy. The TSG decided that they wanted to arrest someone [then] TSG charged in and began grabbing and shoving people.

I was still crouched on the floor, but one of them punched me in the face. I can tell the difference between a shove and a punch. This was a punch, on my right eye- I've got a second black eye which I didn't have before the police tried to arrest that person.’

Although the police originally denied causing such injuries, they now admit that it is “possible” they injured her whilst making the arrest. My picture of Ada’s second injury was taken at 6.30 am.

Ada Cable outside the Honor Oak Pub with a bloody nose a second time.

Ada Cable outside the Honor Oak Pub with a bloody nose a second time.

Turning Point UK have claimed several times that no-one from the anti-drag protesters was arrested. This is demonstrably false. The Police arrested Jamie Turvey, aged 33 from Farnborough, for using words to cause harassment, alarm or distress. He has now been charged with this offence. One of the counter-protesters present told me that Turvey had been shouting slurs, and also threats of rape. I watched as the police took some time preparing before making the arrest, entering a formation and doing a roll call. The arrest took place at 7.48 AM.

Jamie Turvey being arrested by the Met at 7.48 AM

Jamie Turvey being arrested by the Met at 7.48 AM

Later on, Police were seen being very friendly with the far right protesters. For example, having a sit down with Nick Tenconi, who had been actively involved in the earlier attack on the counter-protesters.

Credit to Bob from Brockley @bobfrombrockley

Credit to Bob from Brockley @bobfrombrockley

The Church

The Lewisham Counter Protesters were not the only members of the community subjected to horrific treatment by the far right on Saturday morning.

I spoke to Dorothy, an 89-year-old volunteer at the local Anglican church in Honor Oak. The church has been supportive of the local community in resisting the far right, for example, allowing the community to use the space for meetings about how to keep Lewisham safe.

When Dorothy arrived to open the church for morning prayers on Saturday, at 8 am, she found that the church door, and the step to the entrance, had been smeared with faeces. Dorothy was left to confront this attack on a place precious to her and her community.

Father David tells me that the far right had previously targeted the church, protesting one of the local community meetings. The church has been active in seeking to provide an inclusive space for the entire Honor Oak community, with Father David having previously attended the Honor Oak counter-protests to show his support for the local queer community.

Credit @TwiddleyT on Twitter

Credit @TwiddleyT on Twitter

Turning Point UK have themselves posted in condemnation of the church. It is reasonable to conclude that this attack was committed by the far right upon its arrival in Lewisham on Saturday morning.

Turning Point UK have relied heavily on an image of defending the Christian faith. However, the reality shows that their hatred of the queer community far outweighs their supposed love of God.

The Joy

By around 7am, more people started to arrive. This included lots of members of the local community, as well as Trade Unions. Soon, the Socialist Workers Party also arrived, setting up their stalls of newspapers and materials for their front organisations. The SWP then proceeded to hand out placards plastered with their branding. Ada tells me that local organisers have asked them to stop doing this, but the SWP has refused:

The SWP arrived, with a load of placards with organisation names ("Stand up to racism" and "Socialist workers party") on, and hand them out so it looks like it's only organised by them. We keep asking them to stop doing this, and let people just be locals without needing to pretend they're from a group but they won't.

Soon, a big sound system arrived, and the atmosphere began to change from one of fear to one of joy. As the day went on, more and more people arrived to express their love for the queer community in Lewisham. People danced and hugged one another. By 11 am, the far right had left, and the Lewisham community took the entire street as a space for queer joy. It felt like a street party. The Drag Queen who was performing gave a speech to the crowd, calling on everyone to continue to protect the community and especially the trans community.

Demonstrators hoisting a progress pride flag carry a banner across the street outside the Honor Oak Pub, with the slogan “South London is Antifascist”

Demonstrators hoisting a progress pride flag carry a banner across the street outside the Honor Oak Pub, with the slogan “South London is Antifascist”

A couple of days after the protest, Ada tells me:

I walked back through forest hill this morning, and it felt much safer knowing that fascists and transphobes aren't welcome. It was joyful, and a load of people were really nice to me on the street, talking about the demo.

I don't want fascists in Lewisham, TPUK or otherwise- They attacked us without provocation, they're not safe, and they're clearly not welcome. Lewisham has a proud history of dealing with fascists despite the police trying to enable them. The police won't stop them standing next to the pub and harassing kids, or marching on our streets full stop, so it's up to us to do it.’

Further Police Failure

The street party, however, turned sour when police officers decided they wanted to remove everyone from the road. This was confusing, given everything was about to wrap up in a short while when the Drag Queen Story Hour ended. Despite this, the Police decided to needlessly turn the situation into one of violence. The Police arrested one of the queer protesters who was stood in the road holding a banner, for breach of a dispersal order.

Ada emphasises to me the pointlessness of this renewed violence:

Later on, after TPUK had left, we had a big party in the street, but I was absolutely knackered by then. It was going to wrap up after the drag queen story hour had finished, but the police began arresting people about ten minutes before that happened- I don't understand why, there was no danger to anyone, we were just celebrating that the fascists had gone from the neighbourhood.’

In this way, the Police turned what had been a celebration of queer joy in the face of far right violence, into another opportunity to use violence against the community.

We Keep Us Safe

The events of Saturday show the escalating violence against queer people in the UK, from both police and street fascists. It’s important that we learn from these events, and understand that we are strongest as a community when we come together to look after each other and defend ourselves. I have never been as frightened as I was reporting on Saturday morning - and I am someone who has previously survived significant violence. However, even though I was just a journalist who had travelled from halfway across the country to report, the queer community of Lewisham stood in front of me to keep me safe. I am grateful to them all, and I hope that their courage inspires the queer community across the country to come together, and to keep us all safe.

The Metropolitan Police have been contacted for comment.