Met Police ‘regret’ coronation arrests as anti-monarchy protesters make legal threat
Republic leader Graham Smith and five other protesters from the anti-monarchy group were arrested in London on coronation day
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Leader of the anti-monarchy group Republic, Graham Smith, was arrested along with five others on Saturday morning (6 May) on suspicion of conspiracy to cause a public nuisance as he unloaded placards in St Martin’s Lane, Westminster.
Mr Smith said police initially accused him of being equipped to “lock-on” to an object or building, which is now a jailable offence under the new Public Order Act. The group leader denies this was his intention and believes the Met had used some straps they were carrying as a “pretext” to prevent their protest.
Scotland Yard has since expressed “regret” over the arrests after the campaigners threatened to take legal action when no charges were brought against them.
Mr Smith said a chief inspector and two other Met Police officers personally apologised to him over what he called a “disgraceful episode” after they visited him on Monday evening.
The Met issued a lengthy defence as it confirmed Mr Smith and five others were informed they face no further action and said it had arrested the group using new powers under the Public Order Act. The force said it believed items found alongside a large number of placards could be used as “lock-on devices” to cause disruption.
The statement said: “Those arrested stated the items would be used to secure their placards, and the investigation has been unable to prove intent to use them to lock on and disrupt the event.
“This evening, all six have had their bail cancelled and no further action will be taken. 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.”
It comes after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had earlier backed the Met over the dozens of arrests of protesters amid concerns they were cracking down on the right to protest. During a visit to Hertfordshire, he told broadcasters: “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, that was an extraordinary effort by so many people and I’m grateful to them for all their hard work.”
But Mr Smith believed officers had “every intention” of arresting demonstrators and claimed the Met had used some straps they were carrying as a “pretext” to prevent their protest. He said officers apologised to him at his home in Reading, Berkshire, before handing back the straps for the placards they arrested him over.
He told the PA news agency: “They seemed rather embarrassed, to be honest. I said for the record I won’t accept the apology. We have a lot of questions to answer and we will be taking action.”
Mr Smith added that the speed in which the force dropped any action against the group showed officers were aware “they had made a very serious error of judgment”. He said: “I’m obviously relieved they dropped it so quickly but very angry they even went down this road, robbing people of their liberty for absolutely no reason. There was no evidence of any ability or intent to commit any offence and they simply decided to arrest us and that is outrageous.”
Scotland Yard said 52 of the 64 arrests made during its coronation operation on Saturday related to concerns individuals were going to disrupt the pageantry. So far, only four charges have been brought.
The force insisted its action was “targeted” at those believed to be “intent on taking this action”, adding: “Any suggestion all protest was prohibited is not correct.”
The force acknowledged that at least one of the six people arrested while unloading placards from a vehicle in St Martin’s Lane had engaged with its protest liaison team, but said those officers were not present during the arrest.
It said: “Taking into account the information that people were seeking to seriously disrupt the event, and the significance of the security operation, officers had been briefed to be extremely vigilant and proactive.”
London Mayor Sadiq Khan has requested “further clarity” from Scotland Yard, saying that the right to peaceful protest is an integral part of democracy. In a tweet, he said: “I’ve requested further clarity from the Met.
“While it’s vital the police are able to keep us safe, it must be balanced with protecting the right to peaceful protest – an integral part of democracy. Londoners will want swift reassurance any lessons to be learned will be learned.”