UK Uncut campaigners target Boots

Ealing Times: Campaigners claiming Boots has dodged more than £1bn in tax protest outside Westminster Abbey Campaigners claiming Boots has dodged more than £1bn in tax protest outside Westminster Abbey

Campaigners have targeted Boots stores across the country today, after claiming the company dodged more than £1 billion in tax.

The chemist has denied the claims, saying they are "simply not true" because "the number is based on inaccurate and theoretical calculations."

But this afternoon anti-tax avoidance group UK Uncut said hundreds of people were demonstrating outside Boots shops in Liverpool, Manchester, Northampton, Ashford, Penarth, and in Victoria Street, London. They added that campaigners would be moving to a "secret location" later today for more protests.

Campaigners are currently setting up camp outside Westminster Abbey.

Jo Hill, UK Uncut's spokesman, said: "Boots get 40% of their revenue from contracts with the NHS, funded by taxpayers, yet they think it's acceptable to not pay taxes themselves.

"The tax dodged by Boots could pay for the starting salary of more than 78,000 NHS nurses for a year - that's roughly 120 additional nurses per parliamentary constituency. The Government should stop tax avoidance and stop cutting our vital public services."

Charley Dainty, a football coach at the Victoria Street protest, said she was there to vent her "anger" at big companies dodging tax.

She continued: "I want to send a message to a government who is doing nothing about it. I'm sick of hearing that we cannot afford to pay for our NHS or that we need to cut our public services while the rich are allowed to keep on avoiding tax."

Demonstrators used the Twitter hashtag #BootOutBoots to post updates, including photos of wheelchair users chaining themselves to railings and tweets about police officers allegedly searching their bags and phones.

But a Scotland Yard spokesman said police "were not aware" of any demonstrations connected to Boots.

He added: "On any given day there are about five protests going on in central London. We can't give time to all of them, but we do react if there's a need."

A spokeswoman for Alliance Boots said: "The claim that Boots have avoided £1.2 billion in tax is simply not true.

"This is based on the assumption that any company carrying corporate debt is practising tax avoidance.

"All companies, large or small, that carry debt are afforded tax deductibility of their debt interest in the UK.

"If we look at the real numbers, our corporation tax increased by 40% last year compared to the previous year - from £64 million in 2012/13 up to £90 million in 2013/14.

"Looking after many millions of customers for their health and beauty needs, we invest significant amounts in the UK, around £1.2 billion since 2006, to further develop our stores and services so we can serve people in the best possible manner."

The Dean of Westminster is expected to enter into negotiations with disabled protesters tonight, after they attempted to set up a camp outside Westminster Abbey.

Around 100 protesters from the group Disabled People Against Cuts set up tents at approximately 4pm, but a heavy police presence meant the numbers soon dwindled to around 50 people.

They are campaigning against the Government's closure of the Independent Living Fund, which financially supports disabled people to live in their community rather than in residential care.

Some protesters from the anti-tax avoidance group UK Uncut joined the scene outside Westminster Abbey, following their own demonstrations outside Boots stores today amid claims the chemist has dodged tax.

Ellen Clifford, spokeswoman for Disabled People Against Cuts, said they had already asked the Dean of Westminster Dr John Hall for permission to camp on the land "for the next few weeks."

She added: "He negotiated with us, but said no. Right now, there is a huge police presence here but we will try and stay here for as long as possible. We're glad he's now willing to negotiate again, but have no idea which way he'll go with this tonight."

The group have also sent a letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, urging the church not to take any action against protesters.

A Scotland Yard spokesman said a male has been arrested after allegedly assaulting a police officer. There have been no other arrests.

Protesters said that the Dean had refused to meet them and police had advised them to leave or face arrest for trespassing.

Several tents which had been erected were taken down, but a group of disabled protesters and some of their supporters refused to move.

Many of them in wheelchairs, they carried banners and chanted against the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) next year.

The £320 million fund provides support to more than 18,000 severely disabled people. Tourists looked on with curiosity as protesters sang against the Government's cuts in front of large numbers of police.

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