Police 'heavy-handed' on peaceful protest, say arms fair campaigners

Dan Sabbagh Defence editor
Photograph: Penelope Barritt/REX/Shutterstock

Anti-arms trade campaigners accused the police of taking an “increasingly authoritarian” attitude to peaceful protest as it emerged the total cost of policing the DSEI international arms fair in September had more than doubled to £2.4m.

The data, obtained under freedom of information laws, also showed that the Metropolitan police deployed twice the number of officers – 5,609 – over a 13-day period in which more than 120 were arrested in the run-up to and during the convention in east London.

Siana Bangura, of the Campaign Against Arms Trade, accused the police of mounting an “inappropriate and heavy-handed” operation. “This is part of a bigger picture, with a police in the UK taking an increasingly authoritarian approach to protest.”

When broken down, the £2.4m cost included £1.8m in opportunity costs, £520,000 in overtime payments and £15,500 in catering. That compared to a total bill of £978,000 when the DSEI arms fair was last held, in 2017.

DSEI is Europe’s largest arms fair, where 35,000 delegates, including 68 international delegations, descend on the Excel centre in Docklands, east London, over four days to inspect and discuss some of the latest developments in military hardware.

Campaigners spent the days before the convention opened trying to disrupt those setting up the show, prompting police to make dozens of arrests. Some activists have subsequently been charged, although the first case collapsed last week.

Policing of the event was significantly stepped up in 2019, although it was not clear there was any extra security threat. In 2015, 2,245 offers were deployed and in 2017 the figure was 2,810, compared to 5,609 in 2019.

The Met has been embroiled in a growing controversy about its handling of policing during the autumn, and in particular its handling of the October campaign by Extinction Rebellion activists.

The high court ruled that the Met’s use of a cease and desist section 14 order, which had labelled all Extinction Rebellion protests in the capital as illegal, was unlawful because the force had exceeded its statutory powers in applying it.

Bangura added: “Vital services are facing cuts and austerity, with recent weeks exposing the extent to which the authorities have failed the victims of Grenfell. However, it seems like there is always money available to support the arms industry and the repression of political protest.”