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  1. The Staggers
9 May 2023

Why should the Met Police get the benefit of the doubt?

Police claims that we have a right to protest no longer matter once they have started nicking people for the mere intention to protest.

By Jonn Elledge

The Metropolitan Police made 64 arrests along the route of the coronation procession on Saturday. Of these, 52 “related to concerns people were going to disrupt the event”. Two days on, just four people had been charged, and although the force maintains that other investigations “require more time to progress”, it is unclear what complicated and late-breaking forensic evidence could possibly come to light regarding someone’s intention to slightly disrupt a parade.

As a result, the statement the Met’s press office released last night explaining all this reads suspiciously like an awkward confession that its officers had, in fact, nicked a bunch of innocent people for no good reason whatsoever. “It was not our intention to prevent protest,” the statement claims – but police officers, of all people, should know that good intentions are not always a defence, even if they are sincere; and since the same force nicked the chief executive of the campaign group Republic, held him for 14 hours, then admitted he’d done nothing wrong and apologised, it’s hard to entirely trust the sincerity of that claim. (Graham Smith, the campaigner in question, has since said he does not accept the apology, and will be exploring legal action.)

[See also: Abolish the Met Police]

The statement, it must be said, does not make the police look good. But once a police force has arrested volunteers – volunteers it works with – for the crime of handing out rape alarms, as was revealed on Saturday by the freelance writer Mic Wright, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that this is a police force that has ceased to care how its actions look to the rest of us. (This would at least be consistent with the decision to violently break up a vigil in March 2021 for Sarah Everard, a woman murdered by a serving Metropolitan Police officer.) After all that, other decisions, like the one to arrest an accredited journalist for doing his job, and then not to answer the press office phone for several hours, seem like mere trifles.

Why did the police overreact in this way? Was there pressure from the palace? (The King, it must be said, has missed a great opportunity to make himself look good by speaking out against overzealous policing, which is not a great sign regarding his own belief in the right to protest.) Or the government, or its Home Office? Was a decision to employ such a strategy ever even taken? Or is this just another case of senior officers instinctively backing the actions of their colleagues on the ground for reasons of morale and institutional harmony, no matter how indefensible those actions actually are?

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It hardly seems to matter – just as police claims that we still have a right to protest no longer matter, once the same police force has started nicking people for the mere intention to protest. The Met’s leaders may talk about “policing by consent”; the actions of its officers are those of a group that does not believe it works for the public, but rules over them. They gave those protesters no benefit of the doubt. Why on earth should we offer it to them?

[See also: Is this the end of the Met Police?]

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