Criticism has been levelled against the Metropolitan and City of London Police forces after over 60 people were arrested for protesting the King’s coronation.
The arrests, many under new legislation criminalising ‘attempt to cause public nuisance’, included the leader and seven members of the campaign group, Republic. The group had planned a peaceful protest in Trafalgar Square on Saturday, and had engaged with the Metropolitan Police in the months leading up to the event. The leader of the group, Graham Smith, along with several others was arrested before the protest had even begun. Signs saying ‘not my King’ were seized.
Speaking to Radio 4 on Monday, Smith said he believed the arrests were ‘premeditated’. He said ‘there was nothing that we did do that could possibly justify even being detained and arrested and held’.
‘They were well aware of what we were going to do and said they would engage with us and not disrupt us. So they have repeatedly lied about their intentions. And I believe that they had every intention of arresting us prior to doing so’.
Smith and the other members of Republic were held at Walworth Police Station for over 16 hours before being released without charge.
The Metropolitan Police released a statement late on Monday evening, in which they stated ‘Any suggestion all protest was prohibited is not correct.’
‘Ahead of the Coronation, a significant police operation was launched after we received information protesters were determined to disrupt the Coronation procession. Our activity was targeted at those we believed were intent on taking this action.’
The statement also addressed the seizure of Republic’s signs ahead of their protest, saying that they believed the vehicle to include items that would be used for ‘locking on’ to buildings or objects, now an offence under Section 2 Public Order Act 2023. They said ‘it was not clear at the time that at least one of the group stopped had been engaging with police Protest Liaison Team officers ahead of the event’, addressing Republic’s accusation that the arrests were premediated, based on information provided to the Met in good faith before the protest.
Among other arrests included members of the City of Westminster’s ‘Night Stars’ voluntary group. Two women and a man were arrested while handing out rape alarms, also for ‘conspiracy to commit public nuisance’. The Met said it had ‘received intelligence that indicated groups and individuals seeking to disrupt today’s coronation proceedings were planning to use rape alarms to disrupt the procession’.
A Westminster Councillor said of the arrests: ‘We are deeply concerned by reports of our Night Stars volunteers being arrested overnight. This service has been a familiar and welcome sight in the West End for a long time, and have extensive training, so they can assist the most vulnerable on the streets late at night. We are working with the Metropolitan Police to establish exactly what happened, and in the meantime, we are in touch with our volunteers to ensure they are receiving the support they need.’
Several miles away from the coronation events, 14 members of the Extinction Rebellion splinter group, Animal Rising, were arrested at their headquarters while undertaking a non-violence workshop they say was nothing to do with the coronation events. The group said their planned workshop was ‘publicly advertised’ and they had no plans to disrupt the coronation. A spokesperson from the group said: ‘This is nothing short of a totalitarian crackdown on free speech and all forms of dissent. Just Stop Oil, Republic and Animal Rising have experienced the true character of this Government’s attitude towards peaceful protest today.’
A journalist, Richard Felgate, was also among those arrested on Saturday, also for the new ‘public nuisance’ offence. He was filming Just Stop Oil protestors for a documentary, and was wearing his Bectu (Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union) press lanyard. He said officers were initially hesitant to be seen to be arresting a journalist, but removed his press pass, conducted a search, and arrested him despite not finding any items intended to cause criminal damage. He was held for 18 hours and has been released pending an investigation.
Human Rights group, Liberty, described the arrests over the weekend as ‘extremely concerning’. They said it ‘sets a dangerous precedent for us as a democratic nation’.
MPs have also levelled criticism against the policing of the coronation. Zarah Sultana said: ‘Whatever you think of the monarchy, the right to peaceful protest is fundamental to democracy. This is a chilling violation of that right’.
Green MP, Caroline Lucas, said in a tweet: ‘Many of us warned about exactly this when government rushed through the illiberal public order bill. This is not what democracy looks like.’
Conservative Minister, Lucy Frazer, when asked over the weekend whether the police went too far, said: ‘No. The police are operationally independent from Government.’
She added: ‘What they had to do was to police an international event on the world stage and I think they took that into account in their policing. What they have to do is balance the right to protest, which is important in a democracy. At the same time, there’s the right of all those other people to enjoy what was a fabulous day. I think, overall, they managed to get that balance right.’