A cross-party panel of MPs has confirmed it will scrutinise the Metropolitan Police’s handling of anti-monarchy protests over the coronation weekend.
Six demonstrators from campaign group Republic were arrested under the sweeping powers of the new Public Order Act, on 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 are “real questions” to be asked about the practical application of the law and what guidance was issued to officers ahead of the King’s coronation at Westminster Abbey on Saturday.
Her committee will meet next Wednesday to examine the policing of the event, taking evidence from a number of witnesses.
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.
“So there are real questions about that, and we think this morning we’ll need to look at that and decide whether we want to have that short inquiry to learn some lessons and see what the implementation of that Act actually means in practice to frontline police officers.”
Dame Diana said the committee will be interested in reviewing how broad the legislation is and “what guidance was given to frontline police officers and whether there is an issue about training”.
She also said answers are needed on why more top-level discussions between Met chiefs and 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 Commissioner 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 is right for officers to have the ability to tackle “serious disruption”.
Helen King, a former Met assistant commissioner, said it is “legitimate to ask questions” about the police’s handling of the protests but added that frontline officers do not have the benefit of hindsight when making on-the-spot decisions about public safety.
She told BBC Radio 4’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 sees 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.”