Met chief says police will be ‘ruthless’ at pro-Palestine marches in London

<span>Photograph: Andy Hall/The Observer</span>
Photograph: Andy Hall/The Observer

The head of the Metropolitan police has warned his force will be “absolutely ruthless” in dealing with pro-Palestine protests and said that terrorism threat in the UK is “being accelerated” by the events in the Middle East.

Commissioner Mark Rowley said he would support a review of the legal definition of extremism and how it should be policed, as government ministers called for a “stricter clampdown” on protests but said that current laws were “robust enough” to deal with offences.

Speaking on Sky News’ Trevor Phillips on Sunday programme, Rowley said there would be “many more” arrests in the coming weeks. “We will robustly enforce up to the line of the law,” he said. “We’re going to be absolutely ruthless and we have been and you’ll see many more arrests over the next week or so.”

He added: “This is a particularly challenging time. You’ve got an overlay of threats. You’ve got state threats from Iran, you’ve got terrorism being accelerated by the events and hate crimes in communities. For Jewish communities, it’s now about fourteen-fold increase in antisemitism in London and for Muslim communities, it’s nearly threefold. This is really precarious and in the middle of this we’ve got these big state protests.”

It comes after demonstrations in London during which thousands of protesters have taken to the streets to call for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war.

On Sunday, police said that five people had been charged after as many as 100,000 people gathered on Saturday for a march organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which has coordinated multiple protests in response to the escalating conflict in Gaza. The charges included racially aggravated public order offences and actual bodily harm of a police officer.

The Met also said on Sunday that two women had been arrested on suspicion of inciting racial hatred after an incident in Trafalgar Square on Saturday.

“Following our appeal yesterday evening, two women have now been arrested on suspicion of inciting racial hatred in Trafalgar Square,” the force tweeted. “We’d like to thank the public for their assistance in sharing our appeal and for reporting the incident at the time. The suspects remain in custody.”

It later said one of the women had been charged with a racially aggravated public order offence while the second was released and would face no further action after a decision by the Crown Prosecution Service.

The Met was criticised for not making arrests after “jihad” was shouted at a fundamentalist protest. The force assessed that use of the term did not break the law, although some ministers appeared to be critical of the police stance.

Speaking on Sunday, Rowley said that he would support a review into the legal definition of extremism and how it should be policed.

“There is scope to be much sharper in how we deal with extremism within this country,” he said. “The law was never designed to deal with extremism, there’s a lot to do with terrorism and hate crime but we don’t have a body of law that deals with extremism and that is creating a gap.”

But Michelle Donelan, the science, innovation and technology secretary, said the current laws were “robust enough” when asked whether ministers were reviewing the official definition of extremism.

“We believe that the current law is fit for purpose. We have the Terrorism Act, the Public Order Act – these can be deployed in these types of circumstances where people are actively promoting a terrorist organisation or inciting hatred and promoting violence,” she said. “And we’ve seen some of that happening, we’ve seen some arrests taking place. The home secretary has been working with police because we want to see a stricter clampdown, shall we say. Of course we keep everything under review.”

Pushed on whether the definition of extremism was being reconsidered, Donelan said the government was confident current laws were sufficient but would take action if they appeared to be insufficient over the coming weeks.

The shadow science secretary, Peter Kyle, urged caution when asked if he thought Israel was potentially guilty of war crimes in Gaza. “We have called for international law to be obeyed at all times, bearing in mind that Hamas did not obey international law when it crossed the border, went in and slaughtered 1,400 people and took 200-plus captive,” he said on the programme.

He said Labour was not thinking about whether it would gain or lose votes as it sets out its position on the Israel-Hamas conflict.

“We are not thinking ‘how do we win votes?’ or what votes we will lose at a time when there is war and conflict unfolding before us, and there are human tragedies of a scale we have not seen for a very long time,” he said.