Thousands of bikers have taken to the streets of central London to protest against the prosecution of a soldier who fought in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.
Organisers claim as many as 11,000 bikers met on Park Lane on Friday afternoon, before riding through London to Parliament Square and on to Trafalgar Square.
The protesters, many of whom are armed forces veterans themselves, oppose the prosecution of an unnamed soldier, known only as Soldier F.
Soldier F is to be charged with murdering two people after troops opened fire on civil rights demonstrators in Londonderry in January 1972, on what became known as Bloody Sunday.
Some relatives of the 13 killed have campaigned for their prosecution, while others argue that Soldier F should not face trial.
The protest, which also saw around 80 bikers ride to the Stormont parliament building in Belfast, was conceived in March when Harry Wragg, 56, posted a video on Facebook, calling for Soldier F not to be prosecuted.
The immunity granted to members of the IRA under the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 should extend to British soldiers who fought in the conflict, he said.
A number of biker groups from around the UK welcomed Mr Wragg’s suggestion of a procession of motorbikes in London to protest against Soldier F’s prosecution.
Park Lane was blocked on Friday afternoon by riders queuing to take part in the procession.
The protest travelled from Park Lane through Victoria, across Vauxhall Bridge, back across the Thames at Westminster Bridge and into Parliament Square.
Protesters then rode along Parliament Street and Whitehall and passed the Cenotaph, finishing in Trafalgar Square.
Speaking to the Press Association, Mr Wragg said: “I had a bit of a rant on Facebook saying how disgusting it was really, over Soldier F.
“I made a statement saying ‘what about a few of us riding to London, to make a noisy protest?’
“There are 11,000-plus bikes. We’ve just come together. And the best thing for me is that it’s combined services.
“There’s loads of banter between the RAF, the Navy, the Army and the Marines, and we’ve turned up as one. I’ve been truly moved this week.”
Alan Coates, 47, who owns a motorcycle shop in Hull, joined the protest against the prosecution, which he said was “bang out of order”.
“I don’t know the guy, I don’t know his name, I’ve never served in the armed forces,” he said.
“I’ve shut my business for the day, come all the way down from Hull purely to show my support.
“There’s no greater thing a man can do than lay his life on the line for his country, for people he doesn’t know.
“So people who don’t know him now are down here essentially showing him that he has our support and the Government are bang out of order.
“All these people here are here to support this man who has done nothing wrong in the eyes of the people. He did his job, as many others did, yet he’s being persecuted for what they call a crime.”
The Ministry of Defence said the charges have been brought by the Northern Ireland Public Prosecution Service, which is independent of the Government.
A Government spokesman said: “We are indebted to the soldiers who served with courage and distinction to bring peace to Northern Ireland.
“Although the decision to prosecute was taken by the Northern Ireland Public Prosecution Service, which is independent from Government, we will offer full legal and pastoral support to the individual affected.”
- Press Association