The Metropolitan Police commissioner has claimed officers had to target a “criminal network” during the coronation, which included people posing as stewards – who were caught with bottles of paint they intended to throw at the parade.
Sir Mark Rowley claimed police had received intelligence that people planned to use rape alarms and loud hailers to disrupt the coronation, “extensively vandalise monuments” and “throw paint at the procession”.
His defence of the police operation comes after six anti-monarchy protesters from the campaign group Republic who were arrested during the coronation were released without charges being brought against them.
Writing for the Evening Standard, Sir Mark described the arrests as “unfortunate” – but said it was “frustrating that there are things we are unable to share”.
He added: “I can report that we found people in possession of possible lock-on devices and people that appeared to be purporting to be stewards of the event in possession of plastic bottles containing white paint which we believe were specifically to be used to criminally disrupt the procession and resulted in arrests for going equipped to commit criminal damage.”
He continued: “While it is unfortunate that the six people affected by this were unable to join the hundreds of peaceful protesters, I support the officers’ actions in this unique fast-moving operational context.”
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has now called for a review of the police operation in a letter to Sir Mark.
“I am seeking assurance from you that the issues related to these will be subject to a review and lessons learned,” he said in the letter.
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The government has also come under criticism after new police powers were brought in to tackle protests, which critics argue clamps down on free speech.
The new Public Order Act came into force days before the celebrations, allowing officers to stop and search anyone they suspect is planning to cause disruption.
But Rishi Sunak said it was “right for the government to give police the powers they need to tackle serious disruption”.
Speaking to broadcasters while visiting a pharmacy, the PM would not answer questions about whether he felt comfortable about what happened to protesters at the coronation.
Instead, he said: “Of course people have the right to protest freely but peacefully, but it is also right that people have the ability to go about their day-to-day lives without facing serious disruption.
“And what the government has done is give police the powers that they need to tackle instances of serious disruption to their lives. I think that’s the right thing to do and police will make decisions on when they use those powers.”
Policing minister Chris Philp faced criticism from some on his own benches while answering an urgent question on the situation in the Commons.
Former cabinet minister David Davis said he believed the six people in question were “wrongfully arrested” and said “nobody should question that this was a difficult time for the Metropolitan Police”.
But he added: “Within one week of the Public Order Bill entering the law and in its first serious use, we end up with the head of the Met having to apologise to people who are wrongfully arrested.
“In the event that, let’s say, the Home Affairs Select Committee reviews this matter and comes back with recommendations as to how we change guidelines and maybe laws, will the Home Office take it on board?”
Mr Philp resisted Mr Davis’s calls for a review of the legislation, saying: “I would just caution him against asserting these people were wrongfully arrested, that is not an assertion… that is a legal threshold and I don’t think it has been established that that legal threshold has been met.”
On Sunday night Scotland Yard issued a statement expressing “regret” over the six arrests.
“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,” the statement said.
“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.”
A total of 64 people were arrested during the event on Saturday, including members of Westminster City Council’s women’s safety campaign Night Stars, who hand out rape alarms and other items.