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Should water cannon be used to control protests?

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Guy Smith | 08:47 UK time, Wednesday, 15 December 2010

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The Met Commissioner has said he's "reluctant" to using water cannon against protesters.

On Tuesday Sir Paul Stephenson told crime reporters he was yet to be persuaded about its use although his senior officers have been discussing its effectiveness with Northern Ireland colleagues.

He said the Met didn't have any water cannon anyway and was against getting into some kind of "arms race" with demonstrators.

"We reviewed its use three years ago," he said. "We did not think it was appropriate then or addressed our problem. We have no intention of using water cannon. I am most reluctant to go down that path. But if we decide to then we would consult the appropriate authorities."

He also raised the controversial tactic of kettling or what the Met prefers to call containment. Interestingly, he noted another potential option in his armoury: banning marches.

He said he had no power to ban demonstrations but could ban a march subject to the Home Secretary's approval.

"We can also apply conditions on a demonstration," he said. "There might be a minority but there is a significant number of people who came with the intent of committing violence."

But he admitted that banning a march could inflame the situation.

What tactics should the Met use to help people exercise their right to peaceful protest but also ensure everyone is safe? Should water cannon be used?

Is kettling an appropriate response? Have the Met been proportionate or heavy-handed?


  • Comment number 1.

    Words are so emotive you need to be careful how you report the protest. The protesters call the containments "kettles" because it makes them sound bad... in reality the containments are put in as a reaction to protesters deviating from the agreed route OR bas a response to bad behaviour. The containment is a response not the initial tactic (which is to assist the students march safely).

    Students and news reporters seem to have forgotten that the Police are a political football being kicked around by both sides! The students need to stop protesting in a manner that leaves their marches wide open to abuse (and hijack) from troublemakers intent on violence, and the news reporters need to report BOTH sides of the story. What about the thousands of workers in London and around the country who are also facing cuts and to add insult to injury they face untold inconvenience at the hand of these mobs protesting in cities up and down the country. Travel and businesses pay a direct price for these protests and the students are not held accountable for it.

  • Comment number 2.

    The children can't behave so ban them from protesting, water cannon as a last resort, but please let us all know when, so we can get the popcorn in & watch the hoodies and chavs get washed all over the pavements.

  • Comment number 3.

    Hellyers: I agree we all need to be careful with the use of language. The word "kettling" does appear to have become the media shorthand for containing people for extended periods of time in a specific area. I realise it's a police tactic that is used to control a crowd that may have turned aggressive. Last Thursday the Met said it was only applied as a response and there was a permeable cordon in Parliament Square until certain people started throwing missiles at officers. The protesters argue "containment" was in place before that and inflamed the situation. As I've reported on TV news bulletins, it seems to be not just a battle on the streets but also a war of words between police and protester.
    A respected criminologist, Professor Tim Newburn of the LSE, told me there's also a danger of the police becoming the focus of public anger at government cuts. The student protests are not the only ones anticipated in the future. Next year, I suspect there'll be more organised by trade unions representing the public sector. Indeed Prof Newburn argued the police risk harming their reputation if they begin to be perceived as an "arm of the state" rather than a facilitator of the right to protest peacefully. You may remember the miners strike in the 1980s.
    If the "mobs" as you describe them decide to demonstrate, then yes, it may be an inconvenience and come at a financial cost. But isn't that the price we all pay for living in a democracy?

  • Comment number 4.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 5.

    Water cannon Yes...but only if those who protest violently are unable to accept the consequences of their behaviour. All action, anytime, any place, by anyone always has a consequence. That is simple commonsense when you think about it. The police are responsible for 'Law and Order'. They must be allowed to do whatever they have to do to protect the State. In my view the State is more important than any political party, trade union or any grouping that seeks to use violence to achieve its objectives whatever they may be.

  • Comment number 6.

    My understanding is that the reason the Met is reluctant to use water cannon is because of public perception. It's too closely associated with paramilitary police models like Northern Ireland.
    Scotland Yard wants to stick to traditional tools like truncheons, shields and horses. I also suspect there would be many more complaints if you soaked 200 people with water in freezing winter conditions and then contained them for several hours. It seems water is more indiscriminate than horses.
    Although one source questioned whether half a ton of horse flesh charging at you poses a bigger health and safety risk than firing water cannon.

  • Comment number 7.

    Since I've been invited to watch a video posted on FB I thought I would comment here. Frankly I'm not at all sure what I'm supposed to look at. Is it a rampaging mob assaulting the Police, or is it the Police doing their best to restore law and order? Either way its an even chance that someone is likely to get hurt. If in this case its a 'student', then he/she is 'suffering' a consequence of their behaviour. If its a Police officer then he/she is hurt in the line of their duty. This debate should move on. The real issue is deciding on which non-lethal methods are the most effective in crowd control,or more specifically how best to neutralise those bent on violence. Batons, water cannon, horses aren't the only non-lethal devices available to the police. How would violent protesters/demonstrators prefer to be dealt with? dealt with they surely must.

  • Comment number 8.

    I'm asked the previous person to look at my video and give comments

  • Comment number 9.

    The use of water cannon can cause injuries to those 'under fire'. Why not spray those attacking the Police or committing criminal acts with smart water, it would dye mark skin and clothing. This can be DNA marked for different incidents and detected later by use of UV light.

  • Comment number 10.

    There are many ways to hurt, physically hurt, protesters - water cannons, tear gas, unsheltered incarceration, batons...When I see a police use "hurt", I immediately think that there is a big gap in WANTS between
    - what the people want and
    - what the Government wants.
    Nowhere was this so clear as in the student protests.
    According to a recent poll, 64% - including a majority of supporters of each major party - WANT TO SEE WATER CANNONS USED, with 22% opposed.
    The gap is not only huge, but - at least on the Government's side - it appears the only way to fill the gap is to "control the mob".
    But shouldn't the Government be listening? Shouldn't it be assessing if it has broken promises made?
    A Government that finds its only option to "hurt" is not a democratic Government. It is a Government frightened that it cannot defend its decisions; so, the option = THE BIG HURT.

  • Comment number 11.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?


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