Plastic bullets available to police for Wednesday's student protests
Scotland Yard says officers are free to use baton rounds in extreme cases but critics say tactic is 'appalling and un-British'
Baton rounds of plastic bullets will be available to police chiefs in an attempt to prevent disorder from breaking out in the capital during the latest round of student fees protests.
Trained officers will be free to use baton rounds for "extreme" measures as 10,000 protesters march through London on Wednesday to voice their anger over tuition fees and cuts. Scotland Yard commander Simon Pountain said about 4,000 officers will be on duty to police the event amid fears the march could be hijacked by anarchists.
Extra police are being deployed to help prevent a repeat of the scenes in November and December last year, when hundreds of arrests were made during protests over student fees.
"We certainly don't see it as inevitable that we will witness a repeat of last year's scenes of violence and criminal damage," Pountain said. "However, it would be negligent if we did not plan a response to the small minority who may be intent on disruption and may not intend to be peaceful. We have put in place a detailed policing plan covering not just the area of the march but London as a whole, which naturally takes prominent buildings into consideration.
"Any criminal behaviour will be dealt with quickly, decisively and swiftly."
Critics have reacted angrily to the idea that police will be able to use baton rounds during the protests, accusing the tactic of being "reminiscent of murderous dictatorships".
Jenny Jones, a Green party member of the London Assembly, said: "Any officer that shoots a student with a baton round will have to answer to the whole of London. How did we come to this? An unpopular government pushing ahead with policies that are all pain and no gain, relying on police armed with plastic bullets to deal with young people who complain about it all. The prospect of the police shooting at unarmed demonstrators with any kind of bullet is frankly appalling, un-British and reminiscent of scenes currently being used by murderous dictatorships in the Middle East."
The use of baton rounds to police demonstrations in London has been a source of controversy since home secretary Theresa May said police had the authority to use them during the London riots in August.
The president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, Sir Hugh Orde, who deployed plastic bullets while serving in Northern Ireland, spoke out against the use of baton rounds after the disorder. He said: "I do not think it would be sensible in any way shape or form to deploy water cannon or baton rounds in London. Baton rounds are very serious bits of equipment. I would only deploy them in life-threatening situations. What is happening in London is not an insurgency that is going to topple the country."
A police spokesman said a range of tactics were available to police events where criminality and violence was a threat. He said: "One of these is the authority to deploy baton rounds in extreme circumstances.
"These are carried by a small number of trained officers and are not held and used by those officers policing the route on Wednesday."
Monday, 7 November 2011
Plastic bullets available to police for Wednesday's student protests | UK news | The Guardian