Coronation: Republic chief exec says arrests ‘direct attack on our democracy’
The Metropolitan Police made a total of 64 arrests on the day of the coronation
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The leader of a prominent anti-monarchy group has branded the arrests of protesters during the coronation as a “direct attack” on democracy, while the Prime Minister has backed the Metropolitan Police's handling of the event - as they face a volley of criticism.
Republic chief executive Graham Smith was among those to be arrested in the build up to the coronation of King Charles III. The Metropolitan Police confirmed that a total of 64 arrests were made for a range of offences including affray, public order offences, breach of peace and conspiracy to cause public nuisance ahead of the coronation.
However, only four people have bee charged by police so far, with one suspect accused of a religiously aggravated public order offence and two others accused of possession of class A drugs.
Smith has since been released after 16 hours in police custody but how has he reacted to his arrest, and what punishment will he and the Republic party face?
Here is everything you need to know:
Who is Graham Smith?
Graham Smith is currently living in London and he has been campaigning against the monarchy for more than a decade. Since 2021 he has been the leader of a prominent anti-monarchy group known as Republic. The group has gained support from more than 80,000 Republicans and it was first founded in 1983.
Smith is also the author of the book Abolish the Monarchy: Why We Should and How We Will, which was published in May 2023.
What has Graham Smith said about his arrest?
Graham Smith was released on Saturday 6 May in the evening and he has hit out at the police for their heavy handed behaviour claiming that officers should “hang their heads in shame.”
Smith explained that eight members of his team were arrested whilst preparing for a “peaceful and lawful protest” he added that officers were “intimidating, heavy-handed, not willing to listen, not willing to co-operate or to engage”.
Smith said: “They clearly made their minds up that they were going to arrest us the moment we got there. These arrests are a direct attack on our democracy and the fundamental rights of every person in this country.”
He said the right to protest peacefully in the UK “no longer exists” and that the detentions “destroyed whatever trust might have existed” between campaign groups and the police.
Smith revealed that he doesn’t yet know if himself and his team will receive a further punishment. He said: “We’ve all been bailed, that’s all we know. So, we will hear about whatever happens later.”
What else has been said following the protests?
The protests surrounding the monarchy have divided opinion. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak backed the Metropolitan Police amid criticism over arresting protesters during the coronation.
Speaking to broadcasters after volunteering at a lunch club in Hertfordshire, Sunak said: “The police are operationally independent of Government, they’ll make these decisions based on what they think is best.
“Actually I’m grateful to the police and everyone who played a part in ensuring that this weekend has gone so well, so successfully and so safely," he added.
Culture secretary Lucy Frazer argued that the police got the “balance right” between allowing protests and also allowing people to enjoy the ceremony itself. She added: “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.
Frazer also emphasised the magnitude of the event as it took place on the world stage with hundreds of foreign dignitaries attending and had national security implications.
Parts of the Public Order Act which recently came into force mean protesters who have an object with the intention of using it to “lock on” are liable to a fine, with those who block roads facing 12 months in prison.
The Liberal Democrats’ deputy leader Daisy Cooper criticised the new policy and claims the police have a duty to facilitate a peaceful protest.
She said: “What worries is me is that the Conservative Government have now increased these sort of wide-ranging powers … what they haven’t done is enshrined the sort of legal responsibility and the duty on the police to actually facilitate peaceful protest.”