In the Media

MPs oppose police plans to use water cannon to quell public disorder

PUBLISHED December 19, 2011

Report comes down against water cannon and plastic bullets, saying such measures would have been dangerous during riots

MPs have come down firmly against the police employing water cannon or plastic bullets to quell any future repeat of the August riots.

The Commons home affairs committee say in a report on Monday that their use in the summer would have been an indiscriminate and dangerous way of further inflaming the situation.

The Metropolitan police are currently deciding whether to buy three water cannon at a cost of ?1.3m each as part of a new approach to public order policing in the aftermath of the riots. They are also training more officers in the use of baton rounds or plastic bullets.

But a report published by the cross-party home affairs select committee comes down firmly against the use of such equipment and any further increase in police powers such as declaring instant "no go" areas to clear the streets.

"We cannot recommend any increase in police powers as a result of the August disturbances without seeing specific evidence of a need for such powers and none came our way during this inquiry," says the MPs' report.

"It is our view that in the situation then prevailing, it would have been inappropriate as well as dangerous, to have employed water cannon and baton rounds. We agree with our witnesses, including senior police officers that such use could have escalated and inflamed the situation further."

A decision by the Met police to spend nearly ?4m on water cannon would be the first time that it was routine option for police outside Northern Ireland. The MPs say that the lessons learned from its use in Belfast should not be lost on British policing when large-scale public disorder happens. "Water cannon in particular are an indiscriminate weapon and could have affected innocent bystanders, as well as rioters."

The MPs' inquiry into the summer riots concludes that the single most important reason why the disorder spread was the perception, relayed by television as well as social media, that in some areas the police had lost control of the streets. However they say that switching off social media during times of widespread disorder would not be helpful and commend those forces that made positive use of them to reassure the public.

They say that what ultimately worked in quelling the disorder was flooding the streets with police. They regret that did not happen sooner and say the policing operation was flawed for this reason in many towns and cities, particularly London.

"Individual police officers acted with great bravery, and we commend them for their actions," said committee chairman, Keith Vaz. "However, in London and other areas, in contrast with the effectiveness of police responses in some towns and cities, there was a failure of police tactics. This situation might have been avoided had police appreciated the magnitude of the task."

Vaz said the death of Mark Duggan was a significant factor in the disorder that took place in Tottenham: "A potentially tense situation was made worse by failures of communication on the part of the Metropolitan police and the Independent Police Complaints Commission. This was preventable and led to 'copy-cat riots'.

"For those who lost their homes and businesses, the state effectively ceased to exist ? sometimes for hours at a time. This is an utterly unacceptable situation and should never occur again," he added. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds