The Metropolitan Police Commissioner has defended the force’s policing operation during the Coronation – saying there would be “much more serious questions to answer” if not for their actions.
In a public letter written to London Mayor Sadiq Khan, Sir Mark Rowley said he did not see the coronation as an operation where he needed to “call out our shortcomings” – adding: “No major operation is ever perfect”.
His words come after it emerged a monarchist was arrested and detained for 13 hours after she stood near protesters on the Mall in central London on Saturday.
Alice Chambers has now called on police to put new processes in place to prevent a repeat of the incident.
But Sir Mark highlighted the force’s concerns over the “rapidly developing intelligence” which suggested the potential for paint to be thrown at the procession, damage being done to historic monuments and the use of high sound devices which could have panicked horses.
In the letter, the Commissioner said: “Had our officers not acted on reasonable grounds, based on the evidence in front of them in the moment and the potential risk to the event, there would now be much more serious questions to answer about the event.
“Protest was not banned. While we said that our tolerance for disruption of the coronation celebrations was low, it was not zero.
“There were hundreds of undisturbed protesters along the route including a large number of ‘Not My King’ supporters in Trafalgar Square.
“Serious and reliable intelligence told us that the risks were very real.”
Sir Mark said of the 62 arrests made during the coronation celebrations, 53 suspects had been bailed – with most of the investigations likely to be “lengthy”.
His letter to the London Mayor said the policing operation involved 11,500 officers from across the Met, with 1,270 further officers joining from other forces and overseas.
Sir Mark also said the force took around 24,000 emergency calls over the Coronation weekend.
In his initial letter to the Commissioner, Mr Khan asked him to provide “urgent” information over the arrest of six anti-monarchy protesters – including Republic chief executive Graham Smith.
The six were the first arrests to be made 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.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak defended the new powers, which came into force last week, saying it was right for officers to have the power to tackle “serious disruption”.
In response, Sir Mark said: “While it is unfortunate that the six people affected by this were not able to join the hundreds of peaceful protesters, I support the officers’ actions in this unique fast-moving operational context.”
The Commissioner also defended the length of time suspects spent in custody – saying witness statements, officer accounts and the need to secure evidence will have all added to delays.
Had our officers not acted on reasonable grounds, based on the evidence in front of them in the moment and the potential risk to the event, there would now be much more serious questions to answer about the event
Sir Mark Rowley, Met Police Commissioner
Mr Khan also asked for further information on the arrest of volunteers for Westminster City Council’s charity Night Star which hands out rape alarms.
The leader of the council has requested an apology from the Met after all three Night Star volunteers were released without charge.
But the Commissioner told Mr Khan the deployment of Night Star volunteers had not been “brought to our attention during partnership meetings”.
Concluding the letter, Sir Mark said: “You know I have been more challenging of our need to improve than any Commissioner for decades and will always call out our shortcomings.
“I do not see this as one of those occasions, but of course, that does not obviate the need for debrief and learning that will follow any big operation.
“No major operation is ever perfect and we will always seek to learn and improve.”
The Commissioner said the force would be conducting an operational review following the coronation and that any lessons coming out of it would be “reflected in future planning”.