New Year’s Eve at St Thomas’ Hospital in London is always gruelling. Booze-fuelled accidents, injuries and domestic incidents test staff physically, mentally and emotionally.
For those on duty as 2020 waned, it was a particular challenge — and not just because of Covid-19, which was already filling intensive care unit (ICU) beds.
Matthew Lee, a recently qualified junior doctor, had been drafted in to help in Accident and Emergency over the festive period.
He’d just finished a brutal nine-hour shift when, 30 minutes before midnight, he left the hospital and was confronted by the sight of a rag-tag group of jeering individuals gathered at the entrance.
None was wearing a face mask. Some played drums as others chanted ‘Covid is a hoax!’ — just a few hundred yards from the ICU where patients fought for breath as the virus attacked their lungs on the very wards where Boris Johnson was treated last April.
‘Why do people still not realise the seriousness of this pandemic?’ an anguished Dr Lee asked on Twitter after posting a video of the protest which has now been viewed almost five million times.
‘Their ignorance is hurting others,’ he added.
Among the crowd of Covid-deniers was a scruffy, elderly man with a microphone.
‘You have to pick up the cause,’ he shouted. ‘And if you don’t do that, we will lose.’
The Mail today can reveal that the man with the mic was one Piers Corbyn, a key figure in a growing campaign that is targeting hospitals and spreading fear and intimidation among NHS staff.
Piers Corbyn hosts an anti-lockdown protest on New Year’s Eve on London’s Southbank
The elder brother of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has established himself as a fervent anti-lockdown campaigner and ‘anti-vaxxer’ who has described the Covid vaccine as a ‘satanic death shot’.
But his role at the heart of a conspiracy-driven movement to protest outside hospitals and accuse them of fabricating the existence of Covid-19 has, until now, gone unreported.
Corbyn, 73, leads the Stop New Normal and #OurMovement groups, whose shared ’cause’ is to rail against the ‘Covid Con’, against vaccines, lockdowns and face masks — all of which they believe are symbols of increasing totalitarian control by a ‘New World Order’.
That night he had mobilised some of his 60,000 social media followers to join him after the St Thomas’ protest at the London Eye, with similar events taking place in Manchester, Brighton and Kidderminster.
Ever the showman, he concluded the evening with a bout of fire-breathing — spitting out a flammable liquid which ignited to create a burst of flame and smoke.
There has been no let-up since. Last Saturday, a rally promoted by Stop New Normal, attracted hundreds of supporters in South-West London to protest against mayor Sadiq Khan’s declaration of a ‘major incident’, as the spread of the new, more infectious strain of coronavirus threatened to overwhelm the capital’s hospitals.
Blowing whistles and chanting ‘Stand up’ and ‘Take your freedom back’, they marched down Clapham High Street. Sixteen people were arrested.
Three days earlier, on January 6, I had attended another Stop New Normal demonstration in Parliament Square, surrounded by those convinced the virus is non-existent and who were there to protest against the ‘scamdemic’.
They, too, chanted ‘Freedom’ and ‘No to Fascism’.
I watched as a father with young children became engaged in an ugly stand-off with police. When he was arrested, his son burst into tears, burying his face against his mother’s legs as his father was led away.
St Thomas’ Hospital was first in the firing line that night as part of Corbyn’s ‘party of parties’
So how worried should we be about Piers Corbyn and his motley crew of supporters?
British politics has always had its fair share of screwballs and conspiracy theorists. Are these groups any different?
The answer is yes. At a time of unprecedented national crisis, mass vaccination offers Britain the only route out of the cycle of contagion and lockdown that has laid waste to the economy.
In a race against time, the ambitious aim of the Government’s Covid-19 Vaccines Delivery Plan, unveiled this week, is to have vaccinated 13 million of the country’s most vulnerable people by mid-February, and the rest of the adult population by the autumn.
Scientists say an 80 per cent uptake of the vaccine is needed to protect the population.
But an Oxford University study published last month found that up to 28 per cent of people are hesitant about receiving the vaccine.
One in five believes coronavirus data to be fabricated.
Those who, like Piers Corbyn and his supporters, propagate the message that Covid vaccines are dangerous — and often go further, claiming the virus itself is a ‘hoax’ — are imperilling the programme.
They are exploiting people’s understandable anxiety, feeding them false information, just like the anti-vaxxers who campaign against MMR and other childhood immunisations, with devastating consequences for children world-wide left unprotected from potentially killer diseases.
The Stop New Normal website already boasts an official-looking document for members to give to care home bosses, on behalf of the ‘UK Medical Freedom Alliance (UKMFA)’, a group ‘of medical professionals, scientists and lawyers’, to try to dissuade them from giving vaccines to residents.
This comes in the wake of the scandalous Covid-19 death toll in such homes last spring.
The Covid-deniers’ actions could have even more catastrophic consequences on a national scale.
Indeed, across Britain, the NHS is engaged in a dual war against both the resurgent new strain of coronavirus and those who believe its existence has been invented as a means to control world population by a powerful elite of politicians, media and the wealthy.
Princess Royal University Hospital in South-East London, Croydon University Hospital and Nightingale North-West Hospital in Manchester are among some 30 sites that have been targeted by the conspiracy theorists.
They have accessed hospitals at night to film outpatient departments which, of course, are deserted at that time, and posted the footage online as ‘proof’ that the Government and hospitals are lying about the number of cases.
The brother of ex-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has established himself as an anti-lockdown campaigner and ‘anti-vaxxer’ who has described the vaccine as a ‘satanic death shot’
Last week security guards had to remove a group of Covid-deniers from Colchester Hospital in Essex, while at least three hospital trusts have been forced to make statements to counter misinformation spread about them. Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, has condemned the protesters.
‘You are not only responsible for potentially changing behaviour that will kill people, but it is an insult to the nurse coming home from 12 hours in critical care, having worked their guts out under the most demanding circumstances’, he warned.
‘There is nothing more demoralising than having that kind of nonsense spouted when it is obviously untrue.’
The Prime Minister echoed the sentiment.
‘The kind of people who stand outside hospitals and say ‘Covid is a hoax’ . . . they need to grow up,’ he said.
But Piers Corbyn’s rhetoric goes beyond mere infantilism. Some of his views are so radical brother Jeremy looks Churchillian in comparison.
The two grew up with a third brother in a charming 17th-century country house in a Shropshire village, raised by Left-wing intellectual parents in a thoroughly upper-middle class upbringing.
Piers studied physics at Imperial College London and later gained an MSc in astrophysics. In the 1970s, he dabbled in politics and campaigned for squatters’ rights.
But he eschewed Jeremy’s path and later styled himself as a climate-change sceptic weather forecaster.
His primary source of income is the provision of long-range forecasts, based on a ‘solar weather technique’ which uses analysis of historical weather patterns and solar activity.
He appears something of an embarrassment to Jeremy.
On Christmas Day, Piers door-stepped his MP brother with a man dressed as Father Christmas to ask him his views on the pharmaceutical industry in connection with treating Covid-19 — all filmed for social media.
Jeremy replied that he was against privatisation of the NHS, before shaking hands with both men and saying goodbye.
The lockdown has seen Piers return to frontline activism, and he has been arrested nine times in as many months, charged twice, and fined £10,000 for organising anti-lockdown rallies.
The financial penalty did nothing to deter him in his quest to overthrow coronavirus measures. ‘Our movement is people who can see there is something going wrong,’ Corbyn said in a recent interview.
‘Some might call themselves Right-wing, some might call themselves Left-wing, or far-Right or far-Left. But they have one thing in common: to stop the rise of the New World Order.’
This belief — that a powerful and shadowy cabal is attempting to create an authoritarian world government — is at the core of the anti-vaxxers’ mindset.
Last month, Corbyn led a Stop New Normal ‘anti-vax’ demonstration outside University College Hospital in London. In front of passing paramedics and elderly patients in wheelchairs, he ranted into a megaphone: ‘Diet, vitamins, minerals . . . should be paramount in the NHS. Instead it’s about how to sell poisons and inject them into people’s bodies.’
Of the Covid vaccine, he said: ‘It injects mercury and formaldehyde into your bloodstream. It is a Dr Strangelove concoction to control you. Anyone who takes it is dangerous and stupid.’
Around him, supporters shouted ‘War on vax’, and waved placards bearing messages such as ‘The vaccine will stop us feeling the harmful effects of electromagnetic radiation’ and ‘Flu World Order’.
The group targeted the hospital because they believed — erroneously — that a ‘vaccine administration drive’ was taking place and it was their duty to prevent it.
‘This Covid vaccine is the clinical lie on top of a pyramid of lies known as the Covid Con,’ Corbyn railed.
‘It is there to control people and implement a eugenicist agenda.’
He urged people to go to their GPs and protest.
‘Go and sign our petition to say that MPs should take the vaccine first if they want us to take it. And then we will watch how many die or get ill in a year.’
Corbyn has since revealed his own political ambitions and formally announced his intention to stand as a candidate for the London Mayoral elections in May.
His manifesto includes a promise to ‘reverse all Covid-19 discrimination against people who don’t wear masks, won’t get tested and won’t take the vaccines’, and to ‘end the fraudulent rules which are destroying jobs, the economy, culture and London life’.
The months ahead will be testing for millions who face hardship and unemployment in the Covid recession and may be susceptible to such rhetoric.
Certainly, Piers Corbyn is seeking to broaden his support base.
Stop New Normal Groups ‘[will] be set up in every constituency in London’, he said last year.
‘They can unite under the general banner to roll back the Covid Con in 2021.’
In the past few months, Corbyn has amassed thousands of followers, holding rallies in Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham, Truro and Newport.
‘Now we have hundreds of thousands of people taking action against the New World Order and we have to press on . . . and never give up,’ he has told supporters.
‘We will have even more next year. 2021 will be the year we change Britain for good.’
Piers Corbyn has so far failed to respond to the Mail’s repeated requests for comment.
Only a few weeks into January and 2021 is turning out to be the year that conspiracy theorists emerge from the shadows and into the mainstream.
It is perhaps no coincidence the Parliament Square rally I attended took place on the same day Trump supporters stormed America’s Capitol Hill in Washington DC.
Of the Westminster gathering, Piers Corbyn wrote on Facebook: ‘The rally is going to be heavy. Be prepared to take risks.’
Among the protesters was the Left-wing extremist Debbie Hicks, Stop New Normal’s poster girl who was arrested at home in her dressing gown on New Year’s Eve after filming inside Gloucester Royal Hospital.
She was arrested yet again in Parliament Square — delivering a full monologue, in handcuffs, to her fellow protesters.
Every arrest — invariably filmed — is a vindication for Piers Corbyn and his acolytes, supposed ‘proof’ of the dystopian police state quelling free speech and civil rights.
Trump’s disciples and Corbyn’s followers all worship at the same altar, and their house of congregation is the internet.
They stream their antics live to whip up their brethren and entice new recruits.
For every person present at the protests, there are thousands more watching online.
I asked one woman, Mandy, why she had come to Parliament Square to protest.
‘QAnon,’ she replied.
That, of course, is the far-Right conspiracy group that claims Trump is fighting Satan-worshipping paedophiles in a global conspiracy, which will lead to a day of reckoning known as The Storm.
QAnon members were a heavy presence at the Capitol Hill siege.
‘This is just the start,’ Mandy told me. ‘A lot more is coming this year.’
If so, then now is surely the time to take these groups on by confronting more aggressively the lies and misinformation they peddle. Because left unchallenged, the vaccine roll-out — our only hope of beating the scourge of coronavirus — is threatened.