Sunak says UK police independent after coronation arrests

·3-min read
Members of anti-monarchist group Republic were detained before King Charles III's coronation
Members of anti-monarchist group Republic were detained before King Charles III's coronation

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak insisted on Tuesday that the country's police forces were "operationally independent", after a backlash about the arrest of anti-monarchists before a protest at King Charles III's coronation.

Sunak defended London's Metropolitan Police, which has been widely criticised for detaining six members of pressure group Republic just hours before Saturday's event.

"They (the Met) make the decisions on the ground in the way that they see fit," Sunak told broadcasters.

"That's the way that we've always done it. That's the right way to do it. It wouldn't be right for me to interfere with their operational decisions."

Graham Smith, Republic's chief executive, was among those detained in central London, despite liaising for months with Met commanders before the planned protest.

He claimed he had assurances the demonstration would not be interfered with.

Police used new powers -- enacted only last week and drawn up to target environmental activists following years of disruptive protests -- to hold the anti-monarchists throughout Saturday.

- 'Plot' -

They were released at the end of the day.

The Met expressed "regret" late Monday that the demonstrators had been unable to join the protest as planned and revealed they would not face any further action.

Met Commissioner Mark Rowley defended the force, arguing that arresting officers were "vigilant, curious and proactive" and formed the "reasonable suspicion" that the group was planning disruption.

"While it is unfortunate that the six people affected by this were unable to join the hundreds of peaceful protestors, I support the officers' actions in this unique, fast-moving operational context," he said.

In parliament, policing minister Chris Philp praised the security operation, saying the intelligence picture "included more than one plot to cause severe disruption by placing activated rape alarms in the path of horses to induce a stampede and a separate plot to douse participants in the procession with paint".

He pointed out that hundreds of people were allowed to protest on the procession route, and insisted that police were "operationally independent" of politicians.

But Smith has hit out at their treatment and on Sunday said freedom to protest was now "contingent on political decisions made by ministers and senior police officers".

- 'Premeditated' -

"It certainly appeared to be a premeditated decision to arrest us and disrupt our protest," he told Sky News on Tuesday.

He has now demanded "a full inquiry into why they repeatedly lied to us and who authorised the arrests".

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who is responsible for setting the strategic direction of policing in the capital, also urged Rowley to conduct a review into the matter and make its findings public.

"It is clear that some of the arrests made have given rise to concerns," he wrote in a letter to the police chief, adding he wanted "lessons learned".

Earlier, Sunak's spokesman confirmed that there had been "communication" between the Met and the ministry -- led by hardliner Suella Braverman -- before the coronation, amid speculation that she requested the arrests.

But he insisted such meetings were "business as usual".

"There would always be communication between the Home Office and the police in the run-up to large-scale events," the prime minister's spokesman told reporters.