‘Really surreal’: moment BLM activist rescued far-right protester from mob

Patrick Hutchinson’s decision to carry a far-right protester to safety became the defining image of last summer’s anti-racist movement

Patrick Hutchinson doesn’t normally attend protests. He says he prefers to bring about change through other means. But when he saw a video of Tommy Robinson calling on far-right activists to descend on London last summer to protect national monuments, the 50-year-old grandfather of four knew he couldn’t stay at home and just watch things unfold on TV.

“I felt obligated because I grew up in the 90s and 80s, when the National Front was constantly terrorising the black community,” he said.

Though Hutchinson went to the protest to protect Black Lives Matter protesters who would turn up to oppose the demonstration and diffuse any tense situations, it was his decision to carry a far-right protester to safety that would bring him national attention and become a defining image of last summer’s anti-racist movement.

On the first anniversary of that moment, which lasted a few minutes and transformed the course of his life, Hutchinson said he had yet to see tangible change on race equality born from last year’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations. “We need to keep the momentum going and keep the conversations going.”

Born in Coventry in 1970, Hutchinson moved to Battersea at a young age and was raised by his mum. The far right were a notable presence on the council estate he grew up on. He remembers at the age of nine being pushed off his bike and kicked by the Chelsea headhunters, a notorious far-right football gang.

Far-right protesters
One of the flashpoints that caught Hutchinson’s eye. A man appears to be trying to put a cigarette on the head of a counter-protester, whom he later rescued. Photograph: Luke Dray/Getty Images

His childhood and adolescence years were punctuated by moments like these and it reinforced the importance of community defence. “I’m not going to sit around watching women or children being attacked by thugs and not do anything about it.”

The far-right protest that Hutchinson attended was organised in response to a series of Black Lives Matter protests in London and across the country, including Bristol where the statue of slave trader Edward Colston was toppled. Far-right demonstrators had responded to Robinson’s call and turned up in their thousands – though Robinson himself was conspicuously absent.

Hutchinson and his friends had arrived late and were ushered in a particular direction by the police. Across the police line, he could see far-right demonstrators throwing bottles and other missiles at the police.

“There was a huge number of people and they were milling around. They didn’t want to go home. Every now and again, you would hear some pockets of violence breaking out in places,” Hutchinson said.

One outburst of violence caught his attention. There was an altercation between far-right protesters and counter protesters on the steps outside Waterloo. The group of far-right protesters that were initially fighting had run off, but left one man behind. “He was intoxicated and stumbling around. He could barely stand up. This Rastafarian guy held him up and I think his plan was to take him down the steps over to the police. As he tried to do that, it looked as though some of the protesters got wind of what was happening and they started descending on both of them,” Hutchinson said.

Patrick Hutchinson
‘Change is gonna happen’: Patrick Hutchinson believes the BLM movement can herald lasting change in race issues. Photograph: Suki Dhanda/The Observer

There were a few other protesters trying to protect him. But what started off as shoving suddenly became more physical and Hutchinson, who was watching this unfold at a distance, knew he had to intervene. “This Rastafarian and some of the other protesters were outnumbered and they couldn’t do anything to stop what was about to happen.”

He made his way through the crowd and found the far-right protester, later revealed to be 55-year-old Bryn Male, a retired transport police officer, on the floor underneath a sea of people. Hutchinson’s friends tried to form a blockade around Male to stop people from hitting him.

“And then I just had the presence of mind that it makes no sense to stay here because at some point we’re going to be outnumbered,” he said. “And so I decided to scoop him up, had a look over to see where the police were and I said to myself, you can pick him up and carry him over there. So I did.”

As Hutchinson carried Male away, he could hear some people shouting “fed fed fed” while others booed. He could also feel the blows that Male was receiving. He managed to get him out of the crowd when suddenly the jeers turned into claps and cheering. “It was really surreal,” Hutchinson recalled.

Once he was able to get Male to the police, he sat him down and left him. Hutchinson thought that would be the end of it. But a photo of him carrying Male to safety went viral. By morning, CNN, the New York Times, the Guardian, and the BBC started calling for interviews.

Patrick Hutchinson
Hutchinson was later named winner of GQ’s Humanitarian Award after his heroics. Photograph: Conde Nast/Reuters

The year that followed would be a whirlwind: Hutchinson was congratulated by Prince Harry, won GQ’s ‘Men of the year – Humanitarian award’, and published the book with poet Sophia Thakur called Everyone Versus Racism: A Letter To My Children. His online fitness coaching had also taken off.

His focus now is on helping young people. A few months after what he now calls “Waterloo”, he set up the charity United to Change and Inspire. The charity is now in the process of setting up its first alternative education provision. Hutchinson said he was alarmed by the number of underprivileged children, largely black students, who were being kicked out of mainstream education and into pupil referral units, which have become breeding grounds for gangs.

He remains hopeful that Black Lives Matter can bring about change. “I know there are things bubbling underneath the surface of various organisations. So let’s see what comes from that. I do believe there will be something measurable that we can point to and say this has happened, that has happened, that has changed.”

“This moment isn’t going anywhere just yet. I think this is where change is gonna happen. And it will happen.”

Contributor

Aamna Mohdin

The GuardianTramp

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