The leader of an anti-monarchy group declared he is considering suing the Metropolitan police over the several arrests made during Saturday’s coronation.
Graham Smith is the leader of England’s leading republican movement, Republic, which advocates abolishing the monarchy and replacing it with an elected head of state.
On Saturday morning, Smith and 5 other protesters were arrested before the coronation started, suspected of planning to lock on. Locking onto buildings or objects is a protest tactic that can now lead to a six-month prison sentence and unlimited fines under the new Public Order Act.
The police seized items they believed could be used to lock on, such as luggage straps, and the group was detained for 16 hours. However, the police later apologised in person to Graham Smith and declared they regretted the arrests. They also admitted there was no proof the six protesters were planning to lock on.
The Met police said in a statement on Monday evening “The investigation has been unable to prove intent to use them to lock on and disrupt the event. 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.”
However, Graham Smith did not accept the apology and confirmed he would take legal action.
Smith previously said that he felt the Met Police had trampled over their rights by disrupting the protests. He said that Republic had been planning and discussing the demonstrations with the police for 4 months before the coronation.
“We have had four months of close conversation with the Metropolitan police, in which we have explained to them exactly what we’re going to do, where we’re going to be. We told them how many placards we had, what they would say, that we would have flags, that we would have amplification equipment.
Smith added “They were well aware of what we were going to do and said they would engage with us and not disrupt us. So they have repeatedly lied about their intentions. And I believe that they had every intention of arresting us prior to doing so,”
Republic believes the Met police premeditated these arrests. “This was a heavy handed action which had the appearance of a pre-determined arrest that would have occurred regardless of the evidence or our actions.” they said in a statement released on Sunday.
In the same statement, the group declared “The right to protest peacefully in the UK no longer exists. Instead we have a freedom to protest that is contingent on political decisions made by ministers and senior police officers”
Smith added in an interview “if they wish to stop a protest from carrying on, they have now the means to stop it without any serious evidence or concern. […] The law is so broad and their power so ill-defined, they can simply decide to stop a protest.”
The 64 arrests made during the coronation have brought to light the restrictions on the right to protest. The Labour Party is under pressure to say whether it would repeal the new Public Order Act.
The Met police confirmed that the 6 protesters were arrested based on Public Order Act, which was given royal assent 4 days before the coronation. This act gives the police more powers to crack down on protest tactics, such as slow-marching or locking on.
However, shadow ministers refused to promise a scrapping of the Public Order Act despite the pressure. David Lammy, the shadow foreign secretary stated “We can’t come into office, picking through all the conservative legislation and repealing it.[…] It would take up so much parliamentary time. We need a positive agenda.”
Andrew Gwynne, the shadow public health minister refused to commit to repealing the act but said that the Labour government would look “very carefully at this legislation.”
Rishi Sunak backed the police saying “I’m grateful to the police and everyone who played a part in ensuring that this weekend has gone so well, so successfully and so safely. That was an extraordinary effort by so many people and I’m grateful to them for all their hard work.”
Meanwhile, Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrats’ home affairs spokesperson, said the new powers were “dangerous and unnecessary”, adding: “Any party happy to support them is no supporter of civil liberties and should think again.
Several groups have expressed concern over the arrests of Saturday. Animal Rising accused police of enforcing a “totalitarian crackdown” and Human Rights called out “scenes you’d expect to see in Russia not the UK”.
The mayor of London Sadiq Khan said the event raises questions and he sought “urgent clarity” from Met leaders