Home Secretary Theresa May condemns protest 'thugs'

Theresa May: "We will review the powers available to the police"

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The home secretary has "utterly condemned" the behaviour of thugs who attacked police officers and smashed property in London on Saturday.

Theresa May told the Commons she expected the number of people charged, currently 149, to increase.

She said she had asked the police whether they needed more powers.

A ban on known hooligans at marches was one option, she said, and she would review police powers to remove scarves masking protesters' faces.

In the unrest which broke out alongside a peaceful anti-spending cuts protest, a mob attacked police officers, smashed windows and daubed banks and shops with paint.

A total of 201 arrests were made. Some 145 arrests were in connection with a sit-in by campaign group UK Uncut at luxury store Fortnum & Mason in protest over alleged tax avoidance by the business's part-owners.

On Sunday, 138 of those were charged with aggravated trespass. The other seven were bailed pending inquiries.

The remaining 11 people charged so far are accused of various offences, including possession of an offensive weapon, violent disorder, assault on police, criminal damage and drunk and disorderly behaviour.

UK Uncut, which has carried out a number of protests in recent months, has distanced itself from the violence.

Balaclavas

Mrs May said that since the student demonstrations in December, the Metropolitan police have been learning lessons and the tactics deployed on Saturday reflected that learning.

A worker removes paint from the facade of the Ritz Hotel after riots, pictured 28 March The Ritz Hotel, shops, banks and statues all came under attack

"But there is more that can be done," she said. "I have asked the police whether they feel they need further powers to prevent violence before it occurs.

"I am willing to consider powers which would ban known hooligans from attending rallies and marches, and I will look into the powers the police already have to force the removal of face coverings and balaclavas.

"If the police need more help to do their work I will not hesitate in granting it to them.

"We will always back the police when they do their important work and we will back them as they do their job to bring these mindless thugs to justice," Mrs May said.

"The message to those who carry out violence is 'You will be caught and you will be punished'."

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said Labour condemned the "few hundred mindless idiots" responsible for the violence.

"In a democracy, this kind of violence is no form of political protest," she said. "It is violent assault and criminal damage, it is thuggish behaviour of the worst kind and it must face the full force of the law."

She praised police for their speed in charging people and said they had the opposition's support.

'Internet chitter chatter'

Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Lynne Owens has called Saturday's police operation a success because it minimised damage to property.

Analysis

Police chiefs were criticised for being too heavy-handed at the G20 in 2009 - but have also faced accusations from two former senior officers to toughen up the approach to disorder. So, will London see more of the same during the royal wedding?

What's clear is that there will be a massive policing operation organised with one eye on counter-terrorism and the other on public order.

On the terrorism side, officers may be empowered to stop and search people without suspicion, under a recently amended version of a controversial Labour government law.

On the public order side, police could also use "Section 60" powers to force protesters to remove masks, or face arrest for obstruction.

Westminster will be flooded with police - but one of the biggest challenges will be "hit and run" tactics.

Saturday saw people concealing their identities for attacks - and then attempting to vanish by changing their clothes.

She told BBC home affairs correspondent Tom Symonds that during the late afternoon police used their powers to require protesters to remove face masks but often they put them back on later.

Ms Owens also said there was "chitter chatter" on the internet but no firm intelligence that protesters were planning to disrupt April's royal wedding.

She said the police would "probably" request an order to allow officers to stop and search people on the street around the wedding, even without suspicion an offence had been committed, our correspondent said.

This would be permissible under Section 47a of the Terrorism Act 2000, used only in exceptional circumstances, when it was believed it was necessary to prevent terrorism, he added.

Meanwhile, Labour has demanded Conservative London Mayor Boris Johnson retract claims that leader Ed Miliband was "quietly satisfied" with the violent protest scenes.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Mr Johnson said it appeared the only plan Mr Miliband had for solving the country's fiscal problems was to "get a load of aggressive crusties and Lefties" to cause "argy-bargy" in London.

Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman said: "It's completely wrong and I think it really says more about his twisted politics than it says about us."

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