AN anti-lockdown activist who was arrested while dressed as Father Christmas at a protest said he was “just handing out sweets”.

Matt Single travelled from Sussex to central London on Saturday to attend a protest organised by the anti-lockdown campaign group Save Our Rights UK.

The 48-year-old from Hailsham said: “We went up to London to protest against the lockdown, the conditions and the situation it has created for so many people.

“We’re talking suicides, homelessness, depression. There is a huge list of effects.

“We got together to march and it was a wonderful occasion with a carnival atmosphere.

“I was dressed as Santa and just giving out sweets.”

Mr Single said he had dressed as Father Christmas deliberately to “soften” tensions with police, but he was soon “surrounded” by officers.

He said: “The police came tearing up in vans and formed a line on one side. It was absolutely ridiculous.

“We were playing Christmas carols and there were children there marching, dressed as elves.

“All of a sudden the police grabbed me and twisted my arm to handcuff me. I was there with my family and we were being peaceful. It was just so disproportionate.”

Mr Single was arrested on suspicion of breaching the Coronavirus Act and taken into custody at Wembley Police Station. He was released early on Sunday morning.

Under the November lockdown restrictions, demonstrations of more than two people were banned, after Home Secretary Priti Patel removed the previous exemption for protests.

The Metropolitan Police issued a warning ahead of Saturday’s protest that anyone planning to attend a gathering in London would “risk facing enforcement action”.

Following the event, the Met released a statement which said enforcement was “a direct result of individuals deliberately breaking the law and at times, targeting our officers with aggression and causing disruption to the road network”.

Mr Single said: “We were aware of the risks but the whole purpose of a protest is to protest.

“There are so many people who have been desperately affected by the lockdown. I’ve got friends with depression. It has split families and destroyed businesses.”

Matt has been on 11 protests against the lockdown and coronavirus restrictions so far, including one in London earlier this year attended by thousands of people.

Under the new tier system, public demonstrations are permitted and are exempt from restrictions. Organisers must take precautions to ensure social distancing.

Save Our Rights UK, founded by Brighton resident Louise Creffield, has planned another demonstration in the city on Saturday, December 12.

Ms Creffield was also arrested at the protest in London on Saturday.

It comes after a further 648 deaths within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test were reported across the UK on Wednesday, bringing the total death toll to 59,699.