Pathetic! MP blasts Met as war memorial is trampled onNovember 16, 2023
Scotland Yard faces questions over pro-Palestine march chaos which saw war memorials trampled on while police stood by and claimed they were powerless to act despite activists advertising event hours in advance – as Home Secretary considers toughening laws
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Scotland Yard today faced questions from MPs and veterans after pro-Palestinian protesters were able to climb over a war memorial while police stood by during a night of chaos in central London.
Footage shows a mob of flag-waving demonstrators clambering over the Royal Artillery Memorial at Hyde Park Corner, which was covered with poppy wreaths from remembrance weekend.
A group of officers appeared to simply watch on as the offensive scenes unfolded, despite a dispersal order being in place. Last night, the Met expressed its ‘regret’ for the way officers handled the incident but insisted no laws had been broken.
And Met chief Sir Mark Rowley doubled today today, saying: ‘What the officer didn’t do last night was make up a law that it’s illegal to do something and do an arrest which would have been illegal, clearly.’
Home Secretary James Cleverly, who served in the Royal Artillery, called the demonstration ‘deeply disrespectful’ and suggested laws could be changed to give police powers to prevent protesters clambering over war memorials.
Downing Street called the incident an ‘affront’ which will have ‘appalled’ the public. A spokesman said police already had ‘extensive powers available to them’ but Rishi Sunak would ‘look at what further measures are needed’.
Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer added: ‘The Met has a lot of powers they can use, and should be using, and I’ll work with colleagues to toughen the law. Let’s see those thugs dishonouring our war dead in handcuffs.’
However, Tory MP Neil O’Brien suggested the activists could have been arrested under existing laws. Calling the Met ‘pathetic’, he wrote: ‘This is ”disorderly behaviour” under Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 and they should have been arrested. In 2016 Greenpeace protestors who just put an air pollution mask on the statue of Nelson were arrested on suspicion of causing criminal damage.’
Another video from last night showed activists swarming a couple’s car by Trafalgar Square and shouting abuse at them. Officers eventually intervened to allow them to pass through, as separate footage showed them sprinting to the Cenotaph to ensure it was safe.
The pro-Palestine march on Parliament was advertised on Tuesday – a day before it took place. Once again it included offensive banners, such as one comparing Western politicians to Hitler.
A dispersal order was in place across parts of Westminster from 7.50pm yesterday to 2am today. Roads around Buckingham Palace remained closed as of 7am today, causing travel chaos during the morning commute.
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A group of police officers appeared to simply watch on as pro-Palestinian protesters climbed on the Royal Artillery memorial at Hyde Park Corner
A Met liaison officer in a blue vest was seen appealing for the protesters to come down
Today, the Met expressed its ‘regret’ for the way officers handled the incident but insisted no laws had been broken
Footage shows a sea of flag-waving protesters chanting ‘free Palestine’ as they clambered over the hallowed site
A pro-Palestine protester with a banner comparing Western politicians to Hitler
Another video from last night showed activists swarming a couple’s car by Trafalgar Square and shouting abuse at them
A group of police officers sprint towards the Cenotaph to prevent it from being attacked by pro-Palestinian protesters
Protesters climbed on the Royal Artillery Memorial yesterday evening following a demonstration outside the Houses of Parliament after MPs slapped down SNP calls for a ceasefire despite a major Labour rebellion against Sir Keir Starmer.
The Met Police said the behaviour of the protesters in London was ‘unacceptable’ but no laws had been broken.
In response, social media users pointed out the case of Charlie Gilmour, son of Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour, who was jailed for 16 months in 2011 after he was pictured swinging from the Union Jack on the Cenotaph.
He also leapt on the bonnet of a car, kicked in a Topshop window and set fire to papers outside the Supreme Court. After he was convicted of violent disorder, a judge said he was guilty of ‘outrageous and deeply offensive behaviour’. However, he was never actually charged over the Cenotaph attack.
History of the Royal Artillery Memorial
The Royal Artillery Memorial commemorates the 49,076 soldiers of the Royal Artillery killed in the First World War.
The static nature of trench combat meant heavy guns played a significant role in ‘softening up’ enemy positions before troops moved in.
Designed by Charles Sargeant Jagger and Lionel Pearson, the memorial was funded largely by public donations and unveiled in 1925.
It consists of a Portland stone base supporting a one-third over-lifesize sculpture of a howitzer – which Jagger based on one in the Imperial War Museum.
In 2010, art critic Brian Sewell named it among the world’s top 10 sculptures.
‘Charles Sergeant Jagger’s Royal Artillery Memorial at Hyde Park Corner is, as a sculptural monument, mausoleum and cenotaph, so fit for purpose, so handsome, so modern that it makes Henry Moore seem shallow and Picasso frivolous,’ he wrote.
‘Erected in 1925, it functions not only as a cenotaph but as the emplacement of a huge howitzer carved and constructed in the same stone, seeming to grow organically from it and equally abstract.
‘The howitzer is at a firing angle, pointing towards Victoria Station, while the flanks of the cenotaph are carved with extensive low reliefs illustrating the work of the artillery, and the four great bronze figures.’
Mr Cleverly, who served in the Royal Artillery, told LBC Radio this morning: ‘We are absolutely determined to look at this. (Veterans minister) Johnny Mercer, a former gunner officer – the Royal Artillery was my regiment as well, that’s my regimental memorial.’
‘I’m not going to let my personal feelings cloud my judgement on this but it is clearly wrong, and the police have said that they recognise it is deeply disrespectful for people to climb on war memorials.
The Home Secretary added: ‘We have made a commitment to review the legislation around public order policing.
‘If the police – and I’m going to look at this in real detail – if the police need more powers to make sure that really deeply distasteful, provocative things like that do not happen for the public good, because of course this is about making sure it doesn’t stimulate violent action or any kind of violent responses, but if we need to take action specifically to give police more powers, we are looking at doing that.’
Mr Cleverly’s fury has been echoed by servicemen and veterans across the country, with a source within the Royal Artillery telling MailOnline: ‘What happened was an absolute disgrace. It was sickening to see.
‘This memorial is something close and dear to the heart of every Gunner in the British Army. It honours the memories of the 49,076 men from the Royal Regiment of Artillery who paid the ultimate sacrifice during the First World War.
‘To see it desecrated like this by political activists is appalling.’
But a statement from the police said the protesters – who were breakaway group who had been dispersed at Hyde Park Corner – had not broken any laws by scaling the memorial.
Scotland Yard said: ‘We know some online have asked why the protesters were not arrested. There is no law explicitly making it illegal to climb on a memorial so officers cannot automatically arrest, but they can intervene and make it clear the behaviour isn’t acceptable. The videos shared online show them doing that.’
‘Most people would agree that to climb on or otherwise disrespect a war memorial is unacceptable,’ the statement continued.
‘That is why our officers have made every effort to prevent it happening in recent days. While officers were on scene quickly, we regret they were not there quickly enough to prevent the protesters accessing the memorial.’
Met Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley said police recognised that while the climbing on a war memorial was not illegal, it was ‘unfortunate’ and ‘inflammatory in certain ways’.
He said it was for the Government to consider whether officers should be given further powers to respond to protests. The officer recognised that while it wasn’t illegal it was unfortunate, inflammatory in certain ways. The officers at the scene asked them to get down and they did.
‘So the officers intervened as officers often do to try and de-escalate risk of conflict, even when there isn’t an explicit power to do it. So I think they did a sensible thing,’ he said.
Speaking at the Institute for Government, Sir Mark also conceded the Met had made ‘ghastly errors’ in the past which he was determined to move on from.
Police said one arrest had been made at the protest for possession of an offensive weapon.
New Home Secretary James Cleverly pictured today giving a speech to the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners and National Police Chiefs Council
The pro-Palestine march on Parliament was advertised as long ago as Tuesday
Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer said police had a ‘difficult job with mobs and protesters’ but ‘we’ve got to stop thugs clambering over war memorials’
The Met said climbing over war memorials was ‘deeply disrespectful’ but ‘there’s no law making it illegal’
Tory MP Neil O’Brien suggested the activists could have been arrested under existing laws
Social media users pointed out the case of Charlie Gilmour, son of Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour, who was jailed for 16 months in 2011 after he was pictured swinging from the Union Jack on the Cenotaph. After he was convicted of violent disorder, a judge said he was guilty of ‘outrageous and deeply offensive behaviour’. However, he was never actually charged over the Cenotaph attack
A dispersal order was in place across parts of the City of Westminster from 7.50pm yesterday to 2am today. Pictured are the poppies laid by the Royal Artillery Memorial
Police said the protesters who climbed on the memorial were a breakaway group who had been dispersed at Hyde Park Corner.
A protester wearing the Palestinian flag and carrying a ‘Free Palestine’ placard is pictured scaling the Royal Artillery Memorial in London last night
Pro-Palestinian protesters gathered in Parliament Square, Westminster last night as MPs prepared to vote on a call for a ceasefire in the Israel
Police stood guard outside the Houses of Parliament last night as pro-Palestine protesters marched on Downing Street after British MPs rejected an amendment to King’s Speech by Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) calling for a ceasefire in Gaza
Thousands protested outside of Parliament yesterday to demand that there is a vote for a ceasefire in Gaza
A woman lights flare as thousands protest outside of Parliament last night
A demonstrator waves a Palestinian flag as police stand guard outside the Houses of Parliament last night
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper has said ‘a spiral of disrespect’ cannot be allowed to develop between the Government and the police, following intense political pressure over protest marches.
Speaking at a policing conference in Westminster, Ms Cooper called the attacks by former home secretary Suella Braverman on the Metropolitan Police last week ‘a disgrace’.
Mrs Braverman took the extraordinary step of writing an article for the Times, accusing the force of showing bias in favour of left-wing protesters.
That was after she had pressed for Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley to ban a pro-Palestine demonstration in central London, which she branded a hate march.
Her successor, Mr Cleverly, whom Ms Cooper said is likely to take ‘a very different approach’, is due to speak at the same conference later today.
Ms Cooper told delegates: ‘The attacks on you by Suella Braverman were a total disgrace. Suella Braverman is not home secretary anymore, rightly…
‘But this is actually too important just to move on, to dismiss this as an aberration.
‘Because I said repeatedly in the comments that I made on the disgraceful Suella Braverman article, no home secretary ever before would ever have done this. And that’s true. But now our home secretary has done this.
‘And we cannot let this spiral into a spiral of disrespect between policing and between the Home Office ministers.’
She accused Prime Minster Rishi Sunak of being irresponsible in also putting pressure on the Met over the protests.
‘The Prime Minister… also got drawn into her approach, putting public and theatrical pressure on the Met Commissioner for the sake of headlines. I believe that was irresponsible.
‘The policing minister also tried to defend the claim that police pick favourites. That is not good enough.’
Protesters wave flags and flares during a pro-Palestinian protest in front of the Houses of Parliament last night
Pro-Palestine protesters marched on Downing Street after British MPs rejected an amendment to the King’s Speech by the SNP
Protesters wave flags during a pro-Palestinian protest in front of the Houses of Parliament in London yesterday
Thousands protest outside of Parliament to demand that there is a vote for a ceasefire
A man waves a Palestinian flag as protesters march through Parliament Square yesterday
Demonstrators react to the result of a vote in Parliament during last night’s protest in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza
Activists shout into megaphones as thousands protest outside of Parliament to demand a ceasefire in Gaza
Demonstrators will return to Britain’s streets again this weekend as protests have been planned all across the country.
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), lead organiser of five consecutive weekly marches, said it planned to return to the capital at a later date but was pausing action because of the toll coordinating them had taken.
About 700,000 people are thought to have attended the march on Armistice Day, which saw violent clashes between counter-protesters and police, with 18 officers injured.
Police made 145 arrests and seven people were charged following what was by far the most violent of the five weekly protests.
But this weekend the focus will switch from the capital to smaller regional marches, vigils and speeches across the country in what could prove a challenge for local forces.
Rallies will take place in towns and cities including Newcastle, Oxford, Nottingham, Birmingham and Bristol.
National Police Chiefs’ Council chairman Gavin Stephens said he was confident forces were well equipped to deal with the scattered demonstrations.
‘A huge amount of work is taking place to protect the public, engage with local groups, police protests and take swift and robust action where free speech crosses the line into criminality,’ he added.
‘We are not anti-protest, but we are anti-crime – be that hate crime, public order offences or any other form of criminality.’
Thousands of people attended the pro-Palestinian march in London last Saturday, November 11
Protesters marched through central London towards the US Embassy in solidarity with the Palestinian people
Counter-protesters clash with police near Parliament Square, London on Armistice Day
The Metropolitan Police said its officers were spat at, knocked to the ground, punched and hit by fireworks, bottles and beer cans during the ugly clashes on Saturday. Pictured: Officers arrest a man on a street in Westminster on Saturday following clashes
In addition to the need for vigilance around hate crimes and incidents of anti-Semitism, forces will have to be conscious of the possibility of more clashes with far-Right counter-protesters.
The Metropolitan Police said its officers were spat at, knocked to the ground, punched and hit by fireworks, bottles and beer cans during the ugly clashes on Saturday.
Officers on the frontline suffered dislocations and broken bones, a spokesman said.
Assistant commissioner Matt Twist described the extreme violence from far-Right protesters towards police as ‘extraordinary and deeply concerning.’ Sergeant Lee Smith was struck in the face by a can of beer, which cut his mouth and split open his lip.
‘The can hit me and I stumbled back and it felt like I had been punched in the face. It was a really horrible situation, but I didn’t want to go to hospital and leave my team,’ he said.
‘I looked around and could see a lot of our younger officers were worried, and it’s not fair that they’re subjected to that.
‘We were isolated and holding the line, but I was proud of our officer’s resilience when responding to the events over the weekend.’ In addition to the violence from the counter-protesters, groups splintered from the main demonstration and caused more trouble – including a gang of about 150 who shot fireworks in officers’ faces.
The Met said it was ‘continuing to support’ 18 officers who were injured on Saturday, including nine from other forces. Pictured are police near Parliament Square
Tens of thousands of people have turned up on the streets of London on Saturday
People set off fireworks during the main pro-Palestinian march in London on Saturday evening
Protesters hold flares during the pro-Palestinian protest in London on Saturday
A counter-protester is detained by police in Parliament Square in central London on Saturday
A PSC spokesman confirmed there would be a pause this weekend on a large march in London but there would be more until Israel agreed to a ceasefire in Gaza.
‘From a logistical point of view, doing the national London marches is putting a huge strain on resources and supporters,’ they said.
‘But it is also strategic and will allow us to involve and empower more people throughout the country, not just those who can come to London.
‘We want to take the message far and wide, particularly in terms of MP constituencies which adds to the political pressure for a ceasefire.’
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