A cross-party panel of MPs will consider whether to open an inquiry into the Metropolitan Police’s arrest of anti-monarchy protesters over the coronation weekend, its chairwoman has confirmed.
Six detained anti-monarchy demonstrators were the first to be arrested under the sweeping Public Order Act, under suspicion of going equipped to “lock-on”, a measure protesters use to make it harder for police to move them.
Dame Diana Johnson, who chairs the Commons Home Affairs Committee, said there were “real questions” to be asked about the practical application of the law and what guidance was issued to officers ahead of Saturday’s Westminster Abbey service.
The Labour MP said her committee would meet on Wednesday to “consider whether we want to spend some time looking at those particular issues”.
She said she recognised the Met had co-ordinated a “huge policing operation over the weekend” which had been “very successful” at keeping people safe.
She added: “But actually that issue of how protests were policed is something that has raised concerns, particularly about the implementation of this very new act of parliament, the Public Order Act 2023, and particular section 2, which is about going equipped to lock-on, which seems to have been at the core of why members of Republic were arrested around the use of luggage tags.
Dame Diana said the committee would be interested in reviewing how broad the legislation was and “what guidance was given to frontline police officers and whether there is an issue about training”.
She also said answers were needed on why more top level discussions between the Met and protest group Republic in the months ahead of the coronation were not shared with officers on the ground, particularly when it came to the use of megaphones and luggage tags by demonstrators.
Her comments come after Met chief Sir Mark Rowley on Tuesday defended the arrests during what he called a “unique fast-moving operational context”.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also backed the new powers, which came into force last week, saying it was right for officers to have the ability to tackle “serious disruption”.
Helen King, a former assistant commissioner at the Met, said it was “legitimate to ask questions” about the police’s handling of the protests but said frontline officers did not have the benefit of hindsight when making on-the-spot decisions about public safety.
She told the BBC’s Today programme: “For the frontline officer, they have a very difficult decision that they have to make quickly, usually with imperfect and partial information.
“And those of us who have the benefit of hindsight, knowing that the coronation went off safely, that horses didn’t bolt, that there wasn’t a stampede, that nobody got seriously hurt, we’re in a luxurious position compared with the officer on the street having to make a decision there and then.”
Ms King challenged what she saw as a “growing narrative” that “police don’t care about human rights”.
She added: “My experience is that absolutely the opposite is the case, every policing decision involves the very careful balancing of different human rights of different groups.
“And I think in the case of the coronation, a unique operation, public safety was right up near the top and of course the right to life is the highest right of all.”