Police ‘overzealous’ in handling of anti-monarchy protesters, says former chief

·5-min read
People protest ahead of the Accession Proclamation ceremony at Cardiff Castle (Ben Birchall/PA) (PA Wire)
People protest ahead of the Accession Proclamation ceremony at Cardiff Castle (Ben Birchall/PA) (PA Wire)

Police have been “overzealous” in their handling of anti-monarchy protesters in the wake of the Queen’s death and the proclamation of the King, a former counter-terror chief has said.

Nick Aldworth said the late Queen would not have wanted “interference with legitimate protest” and branded the actions of some officers as “inappropriate overprotectiveness towards the dignity of the event”.

He also backed the Metropolitan Police which made clear people “absolutely have a right to protest” after demonstrators were moved on in London and arrests were made in Edinburgh and Oxford.

The public absolutely have a right of protest and we have been making this clear to all officers involved in the extraordinary policing operation currently in place and we will continue do so

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stuart Cundy

Mr Aldworth, who was the national co-ordinator for UK counter-terrorism policing until 2019, told the PA news agency: “There was an inappropriate overprotectiveness towards the dignity of the event. And I think the Met has come out very strongly and said ‘no, that’s not right.’

“The nature of cops and the military is we all swear an oath of allegiance and I think sometimes we forget that part of allegiance is upholding what the Crown would want.

“I met the Queen on countless occasions across my career and the one thing I’m pretty certain about was that she was an advocate of democracy and she would not want that level of disruption and interference with legitimate protest.”

“They didn’t act appropriately, it’s overzealous.”

The Met issued a statement on Monday night after a viral video from Parliament Square in central London showed barrister Paul Powlesland holding up a blank piece of paper and being asked for his details by an officer.

Mr Powlesland said the officer told him he risked being arrested if he wrote “not my King” on the paper.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stuart Cundy said: “The public absolutely have a right of protest and we have been making this clear to all officers involved in the extraordinary policing operation currently in place and we will continue do so.

“However, the overwhelming majority of interactions between officers and public at this time have been positive as people have come to the capital to mourn the loss of Her Late Majesty the Queen.”

Police Scotland has charged two people in connection with a breach of the peach after two incidents.

A 22-year-old woman was arrested during the Accession Proclamation for the King outside St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh on Sunday.

People protest ahead of the Accession Proclamation ceremony at Cardiff Castle (Ben Birchall/PA) (PA Wire)
People protest ahead of the Accession Proclamation ceremony at Cardiff Castle (Ben Birchall/PA) (PA Wire)

On Monday afternoon, a 22-year-old man was arrested on the Royal Mile in the Scottish capital. Footage appeared to show a man heckling the royal procession as it went past.

Symon Hill was arrested on suspicion of a public order offence after shouting “who elected him?” when he came across a public formal reading of the proclamation of the accession for the King in Carfax, Oxford. He was later de-arrested.

Meanwhile, a protester bearing a handmade sign saying “not my King” was spoken to by police and escorted away from the Palace of Westminster.

The incident happened as the King was due to arrive for his address to MPs and peers in Westminster Hall on Monday morning.

Free speech and human rights campaign groups described the way some officers were policing protesters as “deeply concerning” and an “affront to democracy”.

Activists gathered outside St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh on Tuesday afternoon to protest against the arrests. They were pictured on the Royal Mile carrying “blank canvases” as members of the public continued to file into the cathedral to pay their respects to the Queen.

Simon Morgan, a former Royal Protection Officer who now runs his own private security firm Trojan Consultancy, told PA: “If somebody is standing there with a placard and is just standing there then you police that accordingly.

“If somebody is clearly trying to stir up the crowd and is rattling the barriers trying to get over the barriers that is a different scenario again.

People protest ahead of the Accession Proclamation ceremony at Cardiff Castle (Ben Birchall/PA) (PA Wire)
People protest ahead of the Accession Proclamation ceremony at Cardiff Castle (Ben Birchall/PA) (PA Wire)

“Certainly in the current climate where everybody is there to pay their respects and somebody comes along and is different to that, you have to also consider the safety of that individual.

“You as a police officer have to spin it completely around and have a duty of care towards them.

“Plus this is an event that is being screened to millions of people, billions of people around the world, and the connotations that has for UK policing… all these things come into play when you’re going through how you’re going to deal with this particular incident.

“Policing is never clear cut, there’s lots of things to consider.”

The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) said it had issued guidance to forces on policing protests to make sure there is a “national consistency of approach”.

A spokesman said: “The ability to protest is a fundamental part of democracy and it is a long-established right in this country.

“We know some people want to protest on a range of issues during this time of national mourning, and officers must balance these rights against those who wish to grieve and reflect. We have issued guidance to forces on how they should do this, in order to ensure a national consistency of approach.

“Policing strives to ensure decision making is consistent and fair, and is accountable to the law. Ultimately however, each event or protest has to be assessed on its own unique circumstances. That assessment does not include the cause or issue for the protest – all groups or causes are treated impartially”.