Scotland Yard is facing intense scrutiny over its handling of a pro-Palestine march in central London. During the demonstration, protesters were seen clambering over the Royal Artillery Memorial at Hyde Park Corner, which was adorned with poppy wreaths from remembrance weekend. The incident has sparked a debate over police powers and the respect for war memorials.
Police Response Questioned
The Metropolitan Police‘s response, or lack thereof, has been heavily criticized. Footage from the scene shows officers watching as demonstrators climbed the memorial, despite a dispersal order being in place. The Met later expressed regret over the incident, with Met chief Sir Mark Rowley stating, “What the officer didn’t do last night was make up a law that it’s illegal to do something and do an arrest which would have been illegal, clearly.”
Home Secretary James Cleverly described the demonstration as “deeply disrespectful” and indicated a potential review of laws to empower police in similar situations. Downing Street echoed this sentiment, calling the incident an “affront” to the public.
Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer, advocating for stronger legal measures, said, “Let’s see those thugs dishonouring our war dead in handcuffs.”
Despite the uproar, Scotland Yard stated that climbing a memorial is not explicitly illegal, which limited police intervention. However, Tory MP Neil O’Brien suggested that existing laws under the Public Order Act 1986 could have been used to arrest the activists.
Social Media Reactions and Comparisons
Social media comparisons were drawn to the case of Charlie Gilmour, who was jailed in 2011 for violent disorder, although not directly for actions involving the Cenotaph. This has raised questions about consistency in law enforcement.
The incident has broader implications for public order policing and the balance between protest rights and respect for national symbols. Home Secretary Cleverly, a former Royal Artillery member, emphasized the need to review legislation to prevent such occurrences, which could incite violent responses.
Protests and Police Preparedness
The march, which included offensive banners and was part of a series of weekly protests, had been advertised in advance. The Met Police stressed their efforts to prevent disrespect to memorials and expressed regret for not intervening sooner.
As the UK braces for more protests, police forces are gearing up to manage these events, balancing the right to protest with maintaining public order and respect for national symbols.