The Metropolitan Police says it regrets arresting six anti-monarchy protesters on the morning of the Coronation. It raises questions about new laws designed to stop disruptive protests
Four days before the Coronation, the new Public Order Act was rushed into law. The act gives police more powers to crack down on protestors – and they didn’t waste much time before exercising them.
On Saturday morning, a few hours before the coronation began, the Metropolitan Police arrested members of anti-monarchy campaign group Republic as they were unloading a van full of placards near Trafalgar Square. The head of Republic, Graham Smith, said police told them they were arrested on suspicion of possessing equipment which would enable them to lock themselves to an object. In a video exchange one police officer, when questioned about the arrest, replies: “I’m not going to get into a conversation about that, they are under arrest, end of”.
Graham Smith was kept in a police cell for 16 hours before being released. On Monday, in a statement, the Metropolitan Police said six of those arrested at the coronation, including Smith, would face no further action and that it regretted the arrests. Smith says senior officers have personally apologised to him. But he still plans to take legal action against the Met.
The Public Order Act means that anyone taking part in a disruptive protest could face up to 12 months in prison. In addition, protesters found carrying items that could be used to lock themselves onto objects or glue themselves to roads face an unlimited fine. Police can also apply to the courts to place restrictions on people who they believe are planning to cause disruption.
London mayor Sadiq Khan has demanded a review of how the coronation was policed and there’s been a backlash from some Conservative backbenchers like former cabinet minister David Davis, who described the Public Order Act as “too crude” and “poorly defined”.
The Met Commissioner, Mark Rowley, claims officers received intelligence that people planned to use rape alarms and loud hailers to disrupt the coronation.The policing minister, Chris Philp, told the Commons there were “multiple well-organised plots” to disrupt the “’once-in-a-generation national moment”’. The government insists the new powers are necessary – and have public support.