Published on February 4, 2014 | by Callum McCarthy

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Police hoping to ‘man the cannons’ against protestors

Police resist protestors of the University of London union

Police say stronger forces are required during violent protests. [Seren Jenkins]

The Metropolitan Police commissioner is expected to join other UK police chiefs to ask the UK Government for permission to use water cannons in mainland Britain.

A report by the chief police officers’ organisation ACPO, says police fear “austerity measures are likely to lead to continued protest.”

Police in Northern Ireland have had permission to use water cannon for some time, but they are not currently allowed on the mainland.

The report says that the use of water cannon would have been considered during the 2010 student protest, citing it as an example of “protest turning to serious violent disorder.”

Water cannon could also be used at “planned events where the intelligence picture suggests that serious disorder is likely,” the report says.

Serious

The chief police officers’ report admits that water cannon are “capable of causing serious injury or even death,” but describes the “less lethal” weapon as “highly effective” in keeping protesters away from police lines.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has written to home secretary Theresa May for permission to equip the Metropolitan Police with water cannon.

He told Mrs May that the Met Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe had indicated the cannon “would be rarely seen and rarely used”.

The report has prompted serious concern among politicians and student bodies, who believe that the use of water cannons to quell protesters would do far more harm than good.

Jenny Jones, deputy chair of the Police and Crime Committee at the London Assembly, said: “Water cannon is an indiscriminate weapon that, in addition to being unhelpful in these situations, risks injuring and distressing innocent bystanders and ratcheting up tense situations rather than containing them.

“My greatest fear is that we could soon have a weapon on the streets of London that could lead to tragic consequences.”

Public unrest

It is thought the police would like to have water cannon available to use by the summer as they anticipate public unrest, something that “doesn’t hugely surprise” Sam Bathi of the Student Assembly Against Austerity.

“They don’t want these protests to happen,” Bathi said. “Whenever police come out to deal with any protest, that’s their objective. It will put more timid students off, but it will encourage others.”

“My greatest fear is that we could soon have a weapon on the streets of London that could lead to tragic consequences.” Jenny Jones

“It’s clear that they’re worried, otherwise they wouldn’t be looking to spend their resources on them,” he added.

A Home Office spokesman said: “We are keen to ensure forces have the tools and powers they need to maintain order on our streets. We are currently providing advice to the police on the authorisation process as they build the case for the use of water cannon.”

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