Home Secretary Theresa May: Police Could Use Water Cannon To Disperse Rioters

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Theresa May, the Home Secretary, has opened the way for water cannon to be used on the British mainland for the first time if future demonstrations escalate into uncontrollable violence.

Police used water cannons on the rioters Photo: AP

Ministers will not stand in the way if senior officers wanted to use it, she said.

And in the wake of last week’s shocking scenes in central London’s West End Mrs May warned that future demonstrations needed to be policed “robustly.”

The sight of an out-of-control mob vandalising parts of Westminster has led to accusations that the Conservatives are weak on law-and-order.

In the UK water cannon has only been deployed in Northern Ireland, at various points throughout the Troubles, and its use has been resisted until now by senior police officers elsewhere in Britain. However, it is widely used as a crowd control tactic abroad.

In a sign that the introduction of water cannon to the mainland is being seriously discussed in Whitehall, the Home Secretary, when asked about it, said she did not want to “give the game away about anything that might be done in the future.”

She told Sky News: “Whether or not they choose to use water cannon is an operation issue. I think it is right that we look across the board at all the options that are available.

“It is a matter for them to decide which tactics they wish to use. They (the police) will look across the board at the powers that are available to them, at the operational things that they can do and make decisions to ensure any future demonstrations that take place are also policed robustly.”

At last week’s demonstrations in central London police appeared either powerless or reluctant to tackle violent demonstrators who vandalised the Supreme Court, HM Revenue and Customs as well as desecrating Sir Winston Churchill’s statute and other monuments in Parliament Square.

Privately, some police officers have said it could be time use water cannon rather than allow a mob to run amok. Ministers have previously ruled out the use of water cannon, instead remarking that traditional British methods of crowd control should be maintained.

The Metropolitan Police has trialled water cannon but has never used it. Similarly, it has officers trained to use baton rounds – plastic bullets – but has also never deployed that tactic.

One Met officer who was in a mock mob as part of a trial for water cannon told the Daily Telegraph: “It is very effective. The truck simply comes up, a plate goes over the nozzle and it sprays, rather than jets.

“It is like being in a power-shower times 10 and it takes the air away which makes it difficult to breathe so you have to move. After last week it may be time that a method which gets people away from an area quickly has to be looked at seriously.”

Rank-and-file officers feel senior commanders lack the will to use new methods of crowd control. Sir Paul Stephenson, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said in an interview two weeks ago that he was not “very keen” on using water cannon on London streets.

However, Sir Paul is now under severe pressure after a series of student protests in the capital have ended with the police appearing to lose control. Last month he was forced to apologise to David Cameron after inadequate policing allowed Conservative headquarters to be attacked and vandalised.

In the wake of Thursday’s violence which saw the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall attacked in their car Sir Paul has had to again apologise, this time to the Prince.

Sources at Scotland Yard say the Commissioner “considered his position” after the events of last Thursday.

Sir Paul said that one reason they have not been used is that the Met does not own any. However, it was reported last year that senior officers in the capital had considered buying six water cannon at a cost of around £5 million.

Cost constraints in the wake of Whitehall budget cuts would, therefore, also be a major consideration.

But Labour yesterday came out against the possibility of using water cannon.

Ed Balls, the shadow home secretary, said: “I am very sceptical about the use of water canon or rubber bullets because every time in the past you then have a minority who seek to force the police to use that kind of technique.”

Mrs May also confirmed that Camilla had come into “contact” with the mob who surrounded the car in the West End as she and her husband were driven to the Royal Variety Performance.

Asked to confirm that Camilla had been jabbed in the ribs with a stick by one of the protesters, the Home Secretary replied: “I am not sure about the term poked with a stick. I understand there was contact made. This is an incident that needs to be looked at by the Metropolitan Police.”

Mrs May will make a statement to MPs on the tuition fee protests on Monday.

By Andrew Porter, Political Editor 12:10PM GMT 12 Dec 2010

Source: The Telegraph

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