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TAC Matt Twist provides details of grounds for ‘locking on’ arrests

Home Affairs Committee told ‘reasonable grounds’ is a low threshold

A senior Metropolitan police officer has provided MPs with a detailed justification for the arrests of anti-monarchy protestors during the coronation and said the MPS had not bowed to political pressure in its application of new powers.

Temporary Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist told MPs: “I felt under no pressure politically, I felt pressure to deliver a safe and secure operation, but that was because of the fact that it was a once-in-a-lifetime event for so many people and there would be hundreds of thousands of people in London to celebrate it, and also and importantly, this was the biggest protection operation we have ever run.

“There were 312 protected people that we managed to get in and out of the Abbey and across the footprint in about 90 minutes. So the stakes were enormously high, so I absolutely felt pressure to deliver a safe and secure operation. But that wasn’t political pressure.”

Mr Twist told the Commons Home Affairs Committee that officers had faced “the most challenging, fast moving and complex policing picture we’ve ever encountered for national celebration”.

The six members of the anti-monarchy Republic group who were arrested on the day were the first people to be detained under the Public Order Act, brought in days before the coronation.

They were held under suspicion of going equipped to “lock-on” but later released without charge.

Giving evidence on those specific arrests, TAC Twist said: “We are continually balancing the rights of those who seek to protest with those who are impacted by it.

“And what we have seen latterly is there is a sort of fine line between what is peaceful protest and what is straying into illegal activity, as we’ve seen in the latter part of last year and start of this year, and the shifting of those scales taking place.

“Where crime is being committed, we need to intervene much more quickly.”

Told there was no history of Republic having “locked on” during past protests, he replied: “We don’t know that they were securing placards — that is what was said. The items themselves were in clear plastic bags which were sealed, so they hadn’t been used for that purpose as far as we could see in the van.

“But officers have to make a difficult judgment at the time, in the moment, based on what they are faced with and based on the information they have.

“They have to form reasonable grounds for an arrest and, as the committee will know, reasonable grounds is actually quite a low threshold and is much lower than where you would need grounds to meet the evidential test to charge and a public interest test to charge. So what was found was 12 heavy-duty material straps with combination locks on them, which the officers were told was for securing placards.

“But at the time the officers were operating in a threat environment where they believed, taking into account the time, the location, proximity to the route and what they had in front of them, those officers believed that those could be items that could be used for locking on, and that was why the arrest was made.”

Mr Twist said Republic had engaged with the police in the months ahead of the group’s protest, including through written correspondence, but that he did not know whether they had been given advice on the use of the straps under the Public Order Act.

Chief Constable Chris Noble, the protest lead for the National Police Chiefs’ Council, told MPs that “policing is not anti-protest”.

He said: “There is no presumption against protest, it is actually quite the opposite.”

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley has defended the force’s actions in a letter to London Mayor Sadiq Khan, saying: “Had our officers not acted on reasonable grounds, based on the evidence in front of them in the moment and the potential risk to the event, there would now be much more serious questions to answer about the event.”

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