Chris Whitty may be given police protection after another video surfaced of England’s chief medical officer being subjected to “appalling abuse”.
Senior politicians have condemned the latest incident, with Boris Johnson saying he was “shocked at seeing the despicable harassment” and Priti Patel, the home secretary, saying she was horrified by the “terrible” behaviour towards a “remarkable public servant” who is one of the most senior government officials tackling the Covid crisis.
The health secretary, Sajid Javid, said such behaviour would not be tolerated and that those responsible “should be ashamed”. The vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, said they were “thugs” and should face charges.
Video emerged on social media on Monday of people filming in selfie mode appearing to manhandle Whitty, while he struggles to get away.
The Metropolitan police confirmed they were investigating, saying in a statement: “We are aware of a video being shared online showing an incident in St James’s Park [in Westminster]. Officers spoke to all those involved at the time and their details were taken. We are in contact with the victim and the circumstances continue to be investigated.”
Chris Whitty apparently being accosted by one of the men. Photograph: Instagram
In the video, Whitty manages to duck his head under an arm of one of the men holding on to him. As he tries to walk away a man can be heard saying: “Just one photo, please,” while another says: “One photo mate.”
They then pull him back towards them putting their arms around him as he again attempts to get away.
Patel said Whitty was a “an incredibly respected figure” and told Times Radio: “I am horrified by what has happened to Chris. The police are involved as well and we’re speaking to Chris to look at what we can do to support him.”
She suggested he could be offered police protection. When asked if he needed it, Patel said: “It’s important we make sure that Chris is given the right kind of support. It is terrible to see such an important public figure – someone that day in, day out has been serving our country in the way in which he has to keep us safe – being subject to such appalling abuse.”
Earlier this month Whitty was followed down a street by a prominent anti-vaccine activist who yelled at him for being a “liar”.
In February he was also called a “liar” multiple times while waiting for a takeaway lunch at a street food stall, prompting condemnation when the footage emerged.
Last week Whitty’s deputy, Jonathan Van-Tam, was confronted in the street outside the Ministry of Defence building by an anti-vaccine activist who accused him of poisoning Matt Hancock.
Footage of the incident, which was shared on Facebook, shows the activist following him and yelling at him. Downing Street condemned the abuse, calling it “appalling behaviour”.