Protests against corporate tax dodgers have shut down dozens of high street shops in more than 50 towns and cities across Britain – on the busiest shopping day of the year.
The blockades and sit-ins today (Saturday) targeted chains that have avoided billions of pounds in tax by exploiting legal loopholes, including mobile phone firm Vodafone and the empire of clothing billionaire Philip Green, who owns Topshop and BHS among many others.
Organisers UKuncut confirmed stores had been closed in central London, Brighton, Edinburgh, Truro, Manchester, Cambridge, Liverpool, Wrexham, Walthamstow, Brixton, Tunbridge Wells, Islington, Bristol, Nottingham and Oxford.
And the 'Payday' protests were believed to have taken place in another 40 towns and cities on top of that, from Aberdeen to Plymouth.
On London's Oxford Street, activists gathered at 1pm inside Topshop's flagship store, pretending to browse.
Then, on a whistle, they started throwing footballs and frisbees as part of a 'school sports day', to highlight that the tax avoided by Philip Green would be more than enough to pay for school sports the Tories are cutting.
'The point of this protest is that if billionaires like Philip Green paid their tax, there'd be no need for any cuts,' said protester Samantha.
'The government tells us we need to crack down on people on benefits and poor people, but all the time they're letting their rich friends off the hook for billions of pounds in tax.'
The sports fun was short-lived, though, as spoilsport security guards confiscated the balls and started trying to drag protesters out of the shop, backed up by the police.
In response, the activists moved to the front of the shop, with more than a hundred launching a sit-in in the entrance while dozens more protested outside.
They chanted, 'If you don't pay your tax we'll shut you down.'
Many passers-by joined the protest, as activists gave out leaflets and explained what it's about.
'I think it's a great idea,' said one woman. 'We all have to pay tax – why shouldn't the rich have to?'
Further down the street, protesters also targeted Vodafone, where they brought books and held a 'read-in' to highlight cuts to library funding.
And roaming groups of activists held sit-ins in other targets throughout the day, including HSBC and BHS.
By mid-afternoon, large numbers of stores in the area had closed, apparently fearing they would be next on the hitlist.
In Birmingham protesters turned up to find Topshop was already closed! They then tried to get into the Bullring shopping centre, but were dragged out by security.
Brighton saw protesters dressed as Santa gluing themselves inside BHS. Activists hung a huge banner over the entrance to the store reading 'Stop tax dodgers', and a group occupied the roof for over seven hours. Branches of Dorothy Perkins and Burton were also closed.
In Bristol up to 40 people protested, shutting down Vodafone, Barclays, BHS, Topshop and Dorothy Perkins.
Cardiff had a protest of around 25 outside Topshop.
In Dundee, where there is no Topshop, activists protested outside Burton and Dorothy Perkins.
Eastleigh's 'small but perfectly formed' protest saw five activists leaflet outside the local Burton shop.
Edinburgh's Topshop was one of the first to close after police responded to a protest of around 30 inside the store by blocking all the doors.
Glasgow protesters were met with a heavy police presence outside their planned target, Topshop – including mounted police. They regrouped and moved on to Vodafone, in a protest which ended with five police vans chasing the remaining activists.
In Liverpool some 20 activists were occupying a new target, HSBC bank (see 'The targets', below).
London protests were not just limited to Oxford Street (see above). In Brixton up to 20 protesters targeted Topshop, before moving across the road to a Vodafone, which promptly shut. And another 20 protesters targeted BHS in Walthamstow in a protest organised by Waltham Forest trades council. Steve White of Poplar FBU played a song dedicated to Philip Green titled 'Pay Your Tax'.
Manchester's Arndale Centre was invaded by around a dozen protesters, who targeted Vodafone, Boots, Topshop and Barclays.
The Middlesbrough protest included around 15 activists, as well as a dog named Buddy. Police outnumbered protesters and attempted to tell them leafleting was illegal – but nevertheless, the protesters leafleted and chanted outside Topshop, Vodafone and Burton.
In Oxford activists organised what they called a 'Monaco Tax Dodger Grand Prix' – a reference to the fact that Philip Green's empire is technically owned by his wife, who pays no income tax as she is a resident of Monaco.
Sheffield protesters blockaded the entrance of a Boots and staged a festive piece of street theatre, titled 'Fat Cat in Boots'.
In Truro, Cornwall, a group of more than 20 activists went from shop to shop, reportedly closing down not only Topshop and Vodafone but BHS, Burton and Evans too.
Tunbridge Wells saw around 30 protesters march through Topshop, shut down Dorothy Perkins and Burton, and then hold a sit-in in BHS. They had a banner saying 'Tax justice not tax havens'.
And in Wrexham it only took 30 minutes for activists to force the Vodafone shop there to close.
Philip Green. Green is the multi-billionaire owner of Arcadia Group, which includes clothes shops BHS, Burton, Dorothy Perkins, Evans, Miss Selfridge, Outfit, Topshop, Topman and Wallis. In 2005 Arcadia paid a dividend of £1.2 billion – the biggest payout in British corporate history – to Green's wife Tina. As a resident of Monaco, she pays no income tax, meaning that massive payday was entirely tax-free. What does the government do about it? They made Green a government adviser on cuts!
Vodafone. The revolt against tax avoiders was sparked off when activists noticed that Vodafone had avoided £6 billion in tax – as much as the Tories slashed from benefits in their spending review. Vodafone did a deal with the taxman that meant it did not pay the full tax that would have been due after it bought a German engineering firm.
Boots. The chemist chain, once based in Nottingham, is now registered at a post office box in the tiny Swiss canton of Zug – a notorious “tax haven within a tax haven”. That’s saving the firm £100 million a year in tax.
HSBC. The bank is a new target for protesters after an investigation by Private Eye magazine found it is trying to a similar deal with the taxman to the one Vodafone did – and could avoid up to £2 billion in tax by doing so.
Did you protest against the tax dodgers? Send a report to [email protected]