More than 60 animal rights activists are in custody after a large number of protesters attempted to gain entry to the Aintree Racecourse track, delaying the start of the Grand National, Merseyside Police said.
Officers arrested 118 people on Saturday after scores of activists climbed fences, with at least two fixing themselves to a jump using glue and lock-on devices, according to rights group Animal Rising.
The force said on Sunday that 65 people have been taken into custody, are being processed and will be bailed pending further enquiries.
Animal Rising earlier said they believed 68 people had been taken into custody.
Those arrested were men and women aged between 18 and 66 and came from a range of places including Kent, Southampton, London, Essex, Swansea, Falkirk and Glasgow, the force said.
They were arrested on suspicion of a number of offences including conspiracy to cause public nuisance, obstructing highways and possession of controlled drugs.
Animal Rising spokesperson Nathan McGovern said in a statement on Sunday: “Five have been released thus far and 42 were de-arrested and turned out on to the street by police. No one has been charged at this time.
“The actions taken at Aintree yesterday aimed to prevent harm from coming to horses in the Grand National, with Hill Sixteen sadly falling in the race itself – a death that would have been prevented if the race had not been run.
“Supporters of Animal Rising do not take the risk of arrest lightly, but taking action to protect animals and nature is more important than upholding business as usual.
“This is just the start of many peaceful actions to really create a national conversation about our fractured connection with animals and our natural world this summer, whether they result in arrests or not.”
The protesters breached security fences as National runners were in the parade ring, causing a delay of 12 minutes, although racegoers helped police and event organisers to stop some from reaching the track.
Assistant Chief Constable Paul White said on Sunday that the force had a “robust plan” in place at the event and was able to deal with the incident in a “safe” way.
Mr White added: “To put into perspective, it is estimated that around 70,000 visitors attended the Grand National and the event went safely with an enjoyable atmosphere despite the short interruption from protestors.
“We had a robust plan in place to deal with incidents, and as such our officers and security staff were able to quickly deal with the situation in a safe and appropriate manner.
“It is also important to add that we respect the right to a peaceful protest and expression of views, but criminal behaviour and disorder will not be tolerated and sadly this is what took place at yesterday’s event in an attempt to disrupt the race which resulted in the arrests.”
He said on Saturday that protesters tried to access the course from a number of points at the far side of the track but were removed “swiftly”.
“We put a proportionate policing plan in place and, by and large, we were able to stop the vast majority entering on to the course, a small number did get on to the course but, very quickly, they were removed, again in partnership with the event organiser, private security and police officers and staff,” he added.
Mr White also said that 118 people were arrested for criminal damage and public nuisance offences, including some pre-emptively held before the race, and others over a protest on the M57 where activists glued themselves to the carriageway.
Protester Sarah McCaffrey, a shopworker and student, said: “Whether it’s for food or for fun, our use of animals and nature is symbolic of a relationship beyond broken.
“We’re a nation of animal lovers but the pain these beautiful creatures experience daily does not do that label justice. We need to find ways of loving animals that don’t hurt them.
“I truly believe that we are a nation of animal lovers, every one of us. I know everyone coming to Aintree to view the races today would say they love the horses, however, the suffering experienced by them should shock us all.
“That’s why I’ve decided to put my body between those horses and death on the racecourse, rather than gamble with their lives.”
Hill Sixteen was destroyed after falling at the first fence – the second to die at Aintree on Saturday and the third at the three-day festival – prompting campaigners to call for jump racing to be banned.
Earlier on Saturday, Merseyside Police said three people had been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to cause a public nuisance, with a 25-year-old woman from London and a 55-year-old man from Greater Manchester arrested outside the racecourse on Saturday, and a 33-year-old woman from the London area held in the Greater Manchester area earlier in the day.
These three people are included in the total figure of 118 arrests.
Mr McGovern said: “These actions show that the police are spending more time chasing peaceful protesters than addressing the real issues that exist, such as our broken relationship with animals and the climate emergency.”
Traffic was blocked by protesters on the M57 motorway at around the same time as activists attempted to get on to the racecourse at Aintree.
North West Motorway Police said on Twitter: “We have a number of people sat on the M57 at junction 2 northbound – motorway is closed.”
National Highways said traffic was stopped in both directions on the motorway – between junctions one and two – shortly before 5.15pm, but by 6pm the southbound carriageway was reopened and northbound traffic was being diverted via a slip road.
There were delays of more than an hour on the road, which runs from the M62 to Aintree.
Press Association – Ellie Ng and Eleanor Barlow