LONDON: British police expressed regret over the arrests of the leader of anti-monarchist group Republic and five others at the coronation of King Charles, following criticism that the security response was heavy-handed.
London’s Met Police said they regretted that six of those arrested at the event were prevented from protesting during the coronation on Saturday. They have had their bail cancelled and no further action will be taken, the police statement added.
“We regret that those six people arrested were unable to join the wider group of protesters in Trafalgar Square and elsewhere on the procession route,” the statement, issued late on Monday, said.
The chief executive of Republic, Graham Smith, who was one of the six protesters arrested, said on Twitter that police had apologised to him in person on Monday but he planned to talk to lawyers about taking legal action.
Police said the arrests were made because of items that officers believed could have been used to disrupt the event.
The police said in their statement on Monday on that they were unable to prove the protesters intended to use the items to lock themselves to positions on the coronation route.
Republic said the items in question were intended for securing placards.
One man was also arrested for possession of a knife/pointed article.
There were over 11,000 police on the streets of central London for the coronation, the biggest ceremonial event staged in London for 70 years, and a total of 64 arrests were made.
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak insisted on Tuesday that the country’s police forces were “operationally independent”, after a backlash about the arrests of the anti-monarchists.
“They (the Met) make the decisions on the ground in the way that they see fit,” Sunak said.
“That’s the way that we’ve always done it. That’s the right way to do it. It wouldn’t be right for me to interfere with their operational decisions.”
Smith said he was detained despite having spent months liaising with Met commanders before the planned protest. He claimed he had assurances the demonstration would not be interfered with.
Police used new powers — enacted only last week and drawn up to target environmental activists following years of disruptive protests — to hold the anti-monarchists throughout Saturday.
Met Commissioner Mark Rowley defended the force, arguing that arresting officers had been “vigilant, curious and proactive” and had formed the “reasonable suspicion” that the group was planning disruption.
“While it is unfortunate that the six people affected by this were unable to join the hundreds of peaceful protestors, I support the officers’ actions in this unique, fast-moving operational context,” he said.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who is responsible for setting the strategic direction of policing in London, urged Rowley to conduct a review into the matter and make its findings public.
A spokesman for Sunak confirmed earlier that there had been “communication” between the Met and the Home Office (the British equivalent of the interior ministry) — led by hardline minister Suella Braverman — before the coronation, amid speculation that she requested the arrests.
But he insisted such meetings were “business as usual”.
“There would always be communication between the Home Office and the police in the run-up to large-scale events,” the prime minister’s spokesman told reporters.