Fears have been expressed for the safety of doctors, nurses and other healthcare staff after they were targeted by anti-vaccine activists.
Police are investigating comments made by Kate Shemirani, a former nurse who has been struck off for using her position to spread Covid misinformation, during the latest anti-lockdown rally at Trafalgar Square in central London on Saturday.
In a widely circulated public speech, she compared medical staff to Nazi war criminals, referred explicitly to their executions and demanded that people gather the names of doctors and nurses in the UK.
It is not the first time Shemirani, who has grown a large online following since she started her campaign of Covid scepticism, has used violent language to describe medical staff. Medical staff representatives, senior politicians and her own family have pleaded with her to stop before someone is hurt.
“Some nursing staff have been subjected to abhorrent behaviour throughout this pandemic,” said Pat Cullen, the general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing.
“Comments like these are reprehensible and could put nursing staff at risk. We urge the public to continue to support our hardworking healthcare workers. We expect employers to ensure they are doing all they can to protect nursing staff.”
Keir Starmer called for Shemirani’s comments to be investigated formally.
Asked on LBC radio if he thought they constituted a crime, the Labour leader, who is a former director of public prosecutions, said: “Yes, it’s absolutely shocking, and I think the footage, when I saw a bit of it on social media, was shocking to see. And I do hope it’s going to be investigated and dealt with appropriately.”
A Downing Street spokesperson said: “The prime minister absolutely condemns those comments. Doctors, nurses have done a truly heroic job throughout this pandemic and continue to do so. Any violence, threats or intimidation of this kind is completely unacceptable. As you know, it’s a matter for the police to take a decision on.”
The deputy chair of the British Medical Association, Dr David Wrigley, said: “We have been deeply concerned to hear the comments made at Saturday’s rally in Trafalgar Square and we would ask the police to make a full investigation into the serious threats made towards nurses and doctors.
“Healthcare professions have given their all throughout the pandemic, showing great courage and determination and every step must be taken to protect our frontline workers against this appalling abuse.
“The global vaccination programme has without doubt saved millions of lives and healthcare workers in the UK have done their utmost to care for all the tens of thousands who have needed, and continue to need, hospital and community care as a result of this deadly virus.
“We are truly grateful to every healthcare professional for their dedicated service and stand side by side with them as they continue this hugely challenging work.”
Shemirani’s son Sebastian has called for his mother to be prosecuted in order to put a stop to her campaign and thereby decrease the immediate risk he believes she poses to doctors and nurses.
“If there aren’t existing laws in place that say that what she’s doing is illegal, then we should be having a national conversation about what laws we should be bringing in the drafting of legislation for that. Because it’s only a matter of time before … somebody acts on the bad advice that she’s giving the country,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday.
He accused his mother of influencing tens of thousands of people with conspiracist claims and said he no longer believed it was possible to persuade her to stop.
The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has also condemned Shemirani’s actions. He said: “This is utterly appalling, and I have raised it directly with the Met police. Our NHS staff are the heroes of this pandemic and Londoners from across this city roundly reject this hate.”
Scotland Yard said: “We are aware of video circulating online showing a speech that occurred during a rally in Trafalgar Square on Saturday 24 July. Officers are carrying out inquiries to establish whether any offences have been committed. No arrests have been made.”