Ministers slam 'appalling' scenes of pro-Gaza demo on war memorial

Ministers vow to toughen the law if necessary after ‘appalling’ scenes of pro-Palestinian protesters climbing on Hyde Park war memorial while police stood by and watched

Ministers are vowing to toughen the law if necessary after ‘appalling’ scenes of pro-Palestinian protesters climbing on a London war memorial.

Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary James Cleverly are examining whether police needed more powers after officers stood by during a night of chaos. 

Footage showed a mob of flag-waving demonstrators clambering over the Royal Artillery Memorial at Hyde Park Corner, which was covered with poppy wreaths from Remembrance weekend.

A group of officers appeared to watch on as the offensive scenes unfolded, despite a dispersal order being in place. The Met expressed its ‘regret’ for the way officers handled the incident but insisted no laws had been broken.

Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley doubled down today amid criticism from Tory MPs, saying: ‘What the officer didn’t do last night was make up a law that it’s illegal to do something and do an arrest which would have been illegal, clearly.’

The PM’s spokesman called the incident an ‘affront’ which will have ‘appalled’ the public. He said police already had ‘extensive powers available to them’ but the government would ‘look at what further measures are needed’.

Mr Cleverly, who served in the Royal Artillery, called the demonstration ‘deeply disrespectful’ and suggested laws could be changed. 

A Met liaison officer in a blue vest was seen appealing for the protesters to come down 

Footage shows a sea of flag-waving protesters chanting ‘free Palestine’ as they clambered over the hallowed site  

New Home Secretary James Cleverly pictured today giving a speech to the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners and National Police Chiefs Council

Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer added: ‘The Met has a lot of powers they can use, and should be using, and I’ll work with colleagues to toughen the law. Let’s see those thugs dishonouring our war dead in handcuffs.’

It is understood the Home Office is talking to police about what powers or guidance they might need.

Despite Sir Mark’s defence, Tory MP Neil O’Brien suggested the activists could have been arrested under existing laws. 

Calling the Met ‘pathetic’, he wrote: ‘This is ”disorderly behaviour” under Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 and they should have been arrested. In 2016 Greenpeace protestors who just put an air pollution mask on the statue of Nelson were arrested on suspicion of causing criminal damage.’

Another video from last night showed activists swarming a couple’s car by Trafalgar Square and shouting abuse at them. Officers eventually intervened to allow them to pass through, as separate footage showed them sprinting to the Cenotaph to ensure it was safe.

The pro-Palestine march on Parliament was advertised on Tuesday – a day before it took place. Once again it included offensive banners, such as one comparing Western politicians to Hitler.

A dispersal order was in place across parts of Westminster from 7.50pm yesterday to 2am today. Roads around Buckingham Palace remained closed as of 7am today, causing travel chaos during the morning commute.

Protesters climbed on the Royal Artillery Memorial yesterday evening following a demonstration outside the Houses of Parliament after MPs slapped down SNP calls for a ceasefire despite a major Labour rebellion against Sir Keir Starmer. 

The Met Police said the behaviour of the protesters in London was ‘unacceptable’ but no laws had been broken. 

In response, social media users pointed out the case of Charlie Gilmour, son of Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour, who was jailed for 16 months in 2011 after he was pictured swinging from the Union Jack on the Cenotaph. 

He also leapt on the bonnet of a car, kicked in a Topshop window and set fire to papers outside the Supreme Court. After he was convicted of violent disorder, a judge said he was guilty of ‘outrageous and deeply offensive behaviour’. However, he was never actually charged over the Cenotaph attack. 

Mr Cleverly, who served in the Royal Artillery, told LBC Radio this morning: ‘We are absolutely determined to look at this. (Veterans minister) Johnny Mercer, a former gunner officer – the Royal Artillery was my regiment as well, that’s my regimental memorial.’

‘I’m not going to let my personal feelings cloud my judgement on this but it is clearly wrong, and the police have said that they recognise it is deeply disrespectful for people to climb on war memorials.

The Home Secretary added: ‘We have made a commitment to review the legislation around public order policing.

‘If the police – and I’m going to look at this in real detail – if the police need more powers to make sure that really deeply distasteful, provocative things like that do not happen for the public good, because of course this is about making sure it doesn’t stimulate violent action or any kind of violent responses, but if we need to take action specifically to give police more powers, we are looking at doing that.’

Mr Cleverly’s fury has been echoed by servicemen and veterans across the country, with a source within the Royal Artillery telling MailOnline: ‘What happened was an absolute disgrace. It was sickening to see.

‘This memorial is something close and dear to the heart of every Gunner in the British Army. It honours the memories of the 49,076 men from the Royal Regiment of Artillery who paid the ultimate sacrifice during the First World War.

‘To see it desecrated like this by political activists is appalling.’

But a statement from the police said the protesters – who were breakaway group who had been dispersed at Hyde Park Corner – had not broken any laws by scaling the memorial. 

Scotland Yard said: ‘We know some online have asked why the protesters were not arrested. There is no law explicitly making it illegal to climb on a memorial so officers cannot automatically arrest, but they can intervene and make it clear the behaviour isn’t acceptable. The videos shared online show them doing that.’

‘Most people would agree that to climb on or otherwise disrespect a war memorial is unacceptable,’ the statement continued. 

‘That is why our officers have made every effort to prevent it happening in recent days. While officers were on scene quickly, we regret they were not there quickly enough to prevent the protesters accessing the memorial.’

Met Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley said police recognised that while the climbing on a war memorial was not illegal, it was ‘unfortunate’ and ‘inflammatory in certain ways’.

He said it was for the Government to consider whether officers should be given further powers to respond to protests. The officer recognised that while it wasn’t illegal it was unfortunate, inflammatory in certain ways. The officers at the scene asked them to get down and they did.

‘So the officers intervened as officers often do to try and de-escalate risk of conflict, even when there isn’t an explicit power to do it. So I think they did a sensible thing,’ he said.

Speaking at the Institute for Government, Sir Mark also conceded the Met had made ‘ghastly errors’ in the past which he was determined to move on from.  

Police said one arrest had been made at the protest for possession of an offensive weapon.

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