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6 September 2011

Boris: we don’t need water cannon and rubber bullets

"Common sense, traditional" British policing worked during the riots, says the Mayor.

By George Eaton

Boris Johnson has been giving evidence on the riots to the home affairs select committee for the last half hour, and already there have been several noteworthy moments. The Mayor of London announced that the new head of the Metropolitan police would be named on Monday (you can read an interview with one of the frontrunners, Sir Hugh Orde, here) and said that he “regretted” the fact that Paul Stephenson had to resign as commissioner.

There was an uncomfortable moment when Keith Vaz, the Labour chair of the committee, asked Boris why it took him so long to return from his holiday in Canada. The Mayor explained that he was “stuck in the Rocky Mountains with a camper van” but returned as soon as it became clear that events were not “dying down”. Vaz mischievously noted that he landed on British soil “after the Home Secretary but before the Prime Minister”, to which Boris replied: “that may well be the case”.

Johnson was also asked whether he agreed with calls from some MPs for water cannon and rubber bullets to be deployed in the future (polls showed that 90 per cent of the public supported the use of the former). He replied that the police were able to contain serious disturbances with “robust, common sense, traditional British policing” and that this should be regarded as a great achievement. Significantly, he added that he was not being lobbied by the police “for a greater panoply of weapons”. It looks like the 33 per cent of the public who wanted the police to shoot the rioters with live ammunition will remain disappointed.

Boris suggested that what the police needed was greater support from society but, perhaps surprisingly, did not use this as an opportunity to polemicise against the coalition’s police cuts. Finally, asked how much the riots cost the Met, Johnson gave a figure of £35.5m before agreeing with Vaz that the cost rises to £74m if you include the “opportunity costs” (those on riot duty were not available for other work). The Treasury, he suggested, will pick up the tab in full.

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