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25 October 2021

Priti Patel hits out at ‘totally unacceptable’ harassment by anti-vaxxers outside schools

25 October 2021

The Home Secretary has said it is “completely unacceptable” for anti-vaccination campaigners to be harassing members of the public outside school gates.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) revealed earlier this month that most of the schools surveyed by the union (79%) had been targeted by anti-vaxxers.

The Daily Telegraph carried comments from Priti Patel saying it “is completely unacceptable for children, teachers or parents to be intimidated and harassed outside their schools.”

The paper also quoted Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi as saying the “disgraceful actions of a small minority … must be brought to an end”.

It comes as Labour called for councils to be able to use exclusion orders to address harassment outside schools.

Sir Keir Starmer said it was “sickening” that those against vaccinations were demonstrating at the school gates.

Sir Keir said: “It is sickening that anti-vax protesters are spreading dangerous misinformation to children in protests outside of schools.

“Labour believes the law around public spaces protection orders (PSPOs) urgently needs to be updated so that local authorities can rapidly create exclusion zones for anti-vax protests outside of schools.”

The Labour leader has described it as “sickening” that those against vaccinations have been demonstrating outside schools (Peter Byrne/PA) (PA Wire)

PSPOs can be used to disperse people from a public area and have previously been used to move on protesters outside abortion clinics, or to allow police to confiscate alcohol in certain spaces.

But gaining permission to impose one takes time and significant consultation, and Labour is calling for an expedited process in cases of preventing harassment and intimidation of children outside schools if agreed to by the school, the leader of the local council, and the local police chief constable.

The party said the PSPO could be in place within five days, and could be in place for six months.

The ASCL previously said that of the 526 responses from schools eligible for the Covid vaccination programme for 12 to 15-year-olds, 13% had reported seeing protesters immediately outside their school premises, and 20% reported protesters in the local area.

Some 18 schools said protesters had gained access and protested inside the school premises, and 20 said they had received communications threatening physical harm to staff.

Most of the harassment by anti-vaxxers reported to ASCL had been through emails threatening legal action, though the association said staff had been threatened with physical harm while some protesters have gained access to school sites.

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