Westminster: Council, coronation policing chief and volunteers expected to meet over Night Stars arrests

Westminster: Council, coronation policing chief and volunteers expected to meet over Night Stars arrests

Sadiq Khan has said he believes the senior Metropolitan Police Officer in charge of the policing of the King’s coronation is to meet public safety volunteers and representatives of Westminster City Council, which supports their work, in order to address contradictory accounts of why the volunteers were arrested and detained prior to the event before eventually being released without charge.

Responding to questions from London Assembly member (AM) Caroline Russell (pictured) at his Mayor’s Question Time (MQT) session yesterday, the Mayor acknowledged “there’s a difference of versions” about what led to three Night Stars, who offer help to people who find themselves in difficulty late at night, being arrested in Soho Square at 2.00 a.m on the morning of 6 May and held for around 15 hours.

Khan said he thought temporary Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist, head of Met operations, “has agreed to meet with the volunteers and the council to resolve the issue”, adding that he thought “the offer” from Twist “a sensible one”.

On Wednesday, one of the Night Stars, Suzie Melvin, told the House of Commons home affairs select committee that her arresting officer had informed her that “they were specifically looking for the Night Stars” and had been told in advance where to find them. She said the officer also told her that, having at first failed to locate her and her two colleagues, the police were “later told where we were, in Soho Square, and so then they found us, which would suggest that there was some intelligence they had received”.

Melvin also told the Commons committee that a “large number of officers” not normally based in Westminster had emerged from Territorial Support Group (TSG) vans and searched their bags and pockets before taking them to Walworth police station, which is in Kennington. She said this had occurred despite the volunteers wearing hi-vis jackets displaying the Met’s logo “because we’re in partnership with the police” and the officers being shown emails, leaflets and a website page demonstrating that the Night Stars work in conjunction with Westminster.

Khan confirmed at MQT that the Night Stars were arrested “on suspicion of conspiracy to commit public nuisance”. The volunteers carry rape alarms along with others items, such as water and rainwear, to give out to people they encounter late at night who are anxious or in difficulty. There had been police concerns that protesters might use rape alarms, which emit a loud, high-pitched sound, to frighten horses involved in the coronation festivities.

On 11 May, six days before the Commons committee session, Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley told Khan that Westminster’s liaison officer had been contacted by a Met officer “at the time of the stops and arrests” but “could not confirm knowledge of the organisation”. Rowley provided this account in a letter responding to a number of issues raised with him by the Mayor about how the coronation had been policed, including the arrests of protesters from the anti-monarchy campaign group Republic and others.

Westminster leader Adam Hug had already written to Rowley following an earlier meeting with Met officers setting out his and his deputy leader Aicha Less’s concerns about the handling of the matter. Hug has requested an apology be made to the three volunteers and Less said the council continues to “offer our Night Stars our full support.” One of the other volunteers, Riz Choudhry, has told Westminster Extra he felt “brutalised” by the TSG officers.

Russell, who has just become chair of the Assembly’s police and crime committee, described the Night Stars arrests as “a really shocking episode” and that from what Melvin had said “it sounds like the Night Stars were being targeted”. She put it to the Mayor that there was an inconsistency between what the Met had said prior to the coronation about its approach to local partnerships such as the Night Stars and what had occurred which to her felt “really worrying”. She pressed Khan to say if he was “satisfied with the Commissioner’s explanation about the Night Stars and their arrest”.

The Night Stars incident comes against the backdrop of the newly-passed Public Order Act 2023, which provides the police with powers used for the first time at the coronation, and Dame Louise Casey’s recent highly critical review of Metropolitan Police standards and culture, which called for far greater transparency and accountability from the police service. On London has made inquiries about when a meeting between Twist, the Night Stars and Westminster Council might take place.

The full MQT session can be viewed here. Twitter: Dave Hill  and On London.

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