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Police to ask home secretary to approve use of water cannon across country
Police chiefs say water cannon are needed because ‘austerity measures are likely to lead to continued protest’.
Chief constables are to press the home secretary, Theresa May, to authorise the use of water cannon by any police force across England and Wales to deal with anticipated street protests.
The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) says that the need to control continued protests “from ongoing and potential future austerity measures” justifies the introduction of water cannon in Britain for the first time.
The London mayor, Boris Johnson, has already announced a consultation on the introduction of water cannon on to the streets of London ready for use by this summer.
A new Acpo/College of Policing briefing paper makes clear that chief constables across England and Wales have also been asked to discuss water cannon with their police and crime commissioners and “it is anticipated that the home secretary will be approached in early 2014 in respect of water cannon authorisation”.
It is understood that a successful request by the Metropolitan police to use water cannon in London would result in an authorisation that applied to the whole of England and Wales.
Police commissioners and chief constables outside London will need to agree how the water cannon would be used. It has also been made clear that they would have to be funded out of their existing squeezed budgets.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are keen to ensure forces have the tools and powers they need to maintain order on our streets. We are currently providing advice to the police on the authorisation process as they build the case for the use of water cannon.”
The Acpo briefing paper is written by David Shaw, the West Mercia chief constable, who has been leading a national Acpo/Home Office project that was set up after the 2011 riots and has been re-examining whether to introduce water cannon for the first time in England, Wales and Scotland.
He cites three occasions in the past 10 years when police commanders would have considered using water cannon in London had they been available.
He names them as the Countryside Alliance demonstration in Parliament Square in 2004, the Gaza demonstrations against the Israeli embassy in 2008-09 and “potentially” the student protests of 2010, when specific locations were targeted.
They would also have been considered during the August riots of 2011 but he concedes they would have had only limited impact on the “fast, agile disorder” seen then.
The report says there is no intelligence to suggest there is an increased likelihood of serious riots within England and Wales, but states “it would be fair to assume that the ongoing and potential future austerity measures are likely to lead to continued protest”.
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