A video appearing to show England’s chief medical officer being harassed by two men in a park has been condemned as “appalling and totally unacceptable” by the Health Secretary.
Sajid Javid said such behaviour will not be tolerated and that those responsible for acting in this way towards Professor Chris Whitty “should be ashamed”.
The Metropolitan Police are investigating after the footage, lasting around 20 seconds and apparently taken in St James’s Park in central London, was shared online.
It shows two grinning men grabbing Prof Whitty, apparently filmed by a third man, as they shout “Oi oi” and say “One photo please?”
As Prof Whitty attempts to walk away, the men grab him again.
With a line of police vans visible in the background, a voice is heard saying “Leave the gentleman alone” before the clip ends.
Mr Javid tweeted: “I’ve seen the video of the CMO being harassed. It’s appalling and totally unacceptable. The CMO works tirelessly on behalf of the country.
“We will not tolerate this sort of behaviour towards our public servants. The men behaving in this disgraceful way should be ashamed.”
The Met tweeted: “We are aware of a video being shared online showing an incident in St James’s Park. 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.”
A number of other MPs were swift to condemn those involved in the latest incident and some figures are calling for police protection for key scientific advisers during the pandemic.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi tweeted: “This is disgusting and these thugs must be found and charged. Zero tolerance for harassing a public servant.”
Schools minister Nick Gibb described those responsible as “yobbos”, telling LBC that Prof Whitty has been a “first-class chief medical officer throughout the pandemic, providing very high-quality advice to Government, providing very calm advice to the public in those press conferences”.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said she was “just horrified” by the incident and that officials are looking at support available to Prof Whitty.
Asked if she thinks he needs security measures, she told Times Radio: “I can’t speak about that but it’s important that we make sure that Chris is given the right kind of support.
“It’s 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 just appalling abuse.”
Labour MP Jess Phillips said Prof Whitty had been made to feel “awful and uncomfortable” and issued a reminder that public figures “are human beings”.
“Even if you perceive it as non violent it is clear that he felt awful and uncomfortable and resisted,” Ms Phillips tweeted.
“Public figures are not dolls, they are human beings, it is stunning how easily this is forgotten.”
Actor and TV and radio presenter Adil Ray said it was “an utterly disgusting way to treat a person who has devoted his time to save our lives”.
Former chief prosecutor Nazir Afzal called for protection for Prof Whitty and other scientists advising the Government over pandemic-fighting measures.
“I know that if he was the statue of someone with a dubious past, he would have a dozen strong security detail,” Mr Afzal tweeted. “This is just the latest incident of harassment involving the Chief Medical Advisor.”
TV news presenter Simon McCoy tweeted: “This is a complete disgrace. Chris Whitty should be protected from idiots like these.”
It is not the first time Prof Whitty has been forced to endure public harassment.
Earlier this month, he was confronted in a street in Oxford by a man accusing him of lying to the public about coronavirus, while in February a man accosted the chief medical officer outside Westminster.
The incidents were filmed on mobile phones.
Prof Whitty brushed off the February incident, addressing it at a Downing Street press conference shortly afterwards.
He told viewers: “In terms of being harangued … the odd young lad showing off occasionally happens.
“I didn’t think anything of it, frankly. I was very surprised it was picked up by the media at all, as anything of any importance.”
He added that he was sure the person involved would “become a model citizen in due course”, hoping they could be more like much-admired NHS charity fundraiser the late Captain Sir Tom Moore.