A senior Metropolitan Police officer has acknowledged that the service’s “threshold on tolerance for disruption might have been lower” at the King’s coronation than it would have been for other events due to the “heightened security context” in which the celebrations took place.
Appearing before the Assembly’s crime committee this morning, Assistant Commissioner Louisa Rolfe also spoke of a need for operational “very fast time decisions” taken on the day due to concerning elements of an “emerging intelligence picture” as she responded to questions from committee chair Caroline Russell.
Russell pressed Rolfe about the controversial arrests and detentions of three Night Stars – Met-backed volunteers who assist people in difficulties on the streets of Soho and neighbouring areas – and, during the event itself, of a group of anti-monarchy protesters.
Rolfe said the Met wants to “understand the detail of what happened” with the Night Stars and that the “circumstances surrounding” their arrests “will be fully explored in our debrief process” and result in an apology “if we’ve got things wrong”.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan has said last month he believed a meeting would take place between the volunteers, the Met’s head of operations temporary Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist, and representatives of Westminster Council, another Night Stars partner, to “resolve the issue” of differing accounts of what occurred. It has not been revealed whether such a meeting has yet taken place.
Stressing London’s long history of hosting protests, Russell said she had been given first-hand accounts by academics among a anti-monarchy group that they had been “arrested for wearing T-shirts and waving flags while standing on the pavement on The Mall” then handcuffed, searched and discovered to be wearing Just Stop Oil T-shirts beneath their outer clothing.
Russell said the protesters informed her that Met territorial support group officers had told them there was intelligence that they had “paint, rape alarms and lock-on devices” in their possession, but that this was not the case and, following an initial arrest, were that later in the day rearrested for the more serious offence of conspiracy to cause a public nuisance. Russell said she was also informed that “intimidatory” tactics were used.
Speaking generally about “the information available to officers” Rolfe stressed that need to react to “fast-moving events” and recalled previous occasions on The Mall where people have tried to emerge from the crowd to “get into the route” of processions.
She underlined that the “650 military horses” involved in the coronation were not, unlike police horses, trained to remain calm amid noise and disorder – a significant issue for the Met. “We were very concerned about public safety,” Rolfe explained.
“I can’t answer for those specific events,” she told Russell. “We will, of course, look at the broad picture as much as we can in our review,” including by speaking to officers and looking at body-worn video footage, and “seek to understand fully what’s happened”.
Accompanying Rolfe, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Ade Adelekan said there is “still a significant investigation ongoing” into the 64 coronation-related arrests, resulting in 42 people still being on bail. This, along with some civil actions being taken against the Met, meant “we’re limited in what we can say,” he said, though he reassured the panel that “it is not the case” that people can be arrested for “just wearing T-shirts”.
Asked by Liberal Democrat AM Caroline Pidgeon if, “rightly or wrongly”, the Met had taken a “very cautious” approach and “to in some ways over-arrest and then answer questions later rather than risk chaotic scenes and serious disruption and damaging images around the world, Rolfe replied: “Our considerations were based on safety and security of the event and our lower thresholds were because of the significance of those risks to safety and security.”
At the start of the session Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime Sophie Linden congratulated the Met for its Coronation operation ensuring that “in the main” the event “passed off incredibly smoothly”, while reminding the committee that she and the Mayor’s Officer for Policing and Crime have already raised concerns with Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley over “a small number of arrests that took place on the day” and that Rowley and Mayor Khan have exchanged public correspondence about the matter.
Watch the police and crime committee meeting in full here.
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