Mayor writes to Home Secretary supporting request for water cannon

19 March 2014

• Independent TNS poll shows over two thirds respondents support for deployment of water cannon by police to tackle serious public disorder

Following a six week public consultation, the Mayor of London Boris Johnson has today announced that he has agreed to support the Metropolitan Police’s call to purchase water cannon to help enhance their response to riots or other serious and exceptional public disorder.

The final decision on whether to license the water cannon for use on the UK mainland now rests with the Home Secretary. In coming to this recommendation, the Mayor has taken into account evidence of broad support amongst Londoners for this measure.

An independent poll conducted by TNS on behalf of the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC), found over two thirds of respondents (68 per cent) were supportive of the use of water cannon in limited circumstances. In addition, over half of the respondents (52 per cent) expressed that they would have greater confidence in the Met Police's ability to respond to serious public disorder if water cannon were available: more than a third think the police already have water cannon.

The poll is the largest and most detailed undertaken on this issue gathering the opinions of a representative group of 4,223 Londoners aged 16 and over. Every ethnic group was favourable to the use of water cannon as was every age group across all areas of the capital. The survey found that the more people knew about water cannon, the more supportive they were.

Further to the poll, MOPAC held a series of public meetings with stakeholders and the public and over 2,500 individual email responses were received. The Mayor's decision comes after the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, requested the Mayor's permission to purchase three existing water cannon from the German Federal Police.

The Commissioner has committed that these water cannon would be 'rarely seen and rarely used'. Concerns were raised during the consultation and the Mayor sought assurances from the police about how and when water cannon would be used and has outlined these assurances in his response the London Assembly.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said: ‘No one wants to see water cannon routinely deployed on the streets of London but having carefully weighed up all the evidence, I have concluded there is broad support amongst Londoners for the use of this measure by the police in limited circumstances.

'This is a tactic that the Commissioner has requested be available to his force when confronted with situations of extreme public disorder and he has assured me that they will be rarely seen and rarely used. However it is critical that Londoners are assured that there are robust safeguards in place before seeing water cannon in action. To this end I will be asking Lord Carlile's independent policing ethics panel to explore the ethical considerations around how water cannon, if licensed by the Home Secretary, should be used. This will reassure Londoners and help the police in ensuring transparent safeguards are in place to govern any deployment.'

The Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime, Stephen Greenhalgh, said: 'We need the Met police to continue to police protest in a proportionate manner and not to escalate the use of force. But we also have a duty to ensure the police have the tools to do the job we ask of them. Over the course of MOPAC's consultation, Londoners have had the chance to air their views on this important issue and it is clear that on balance, there is broad public support for this measure from Londoners of all backgrounds. The Commissioner's request has met with the Mayor's support and we now await the Home Secretary’s decision.'


Notes to editors

• The TNS poll was commissioned by the Greater London Authority on behalf of MOPAC and ran during the last two weeks of the public consultation - it can be found in full here along with evidence from the consultation. The key findings of the poll are:

• 60% agree that the Met police has shown itself capable of responding well to serious disorder in London (17% disagree);

• Most Londoners know something about water cannons, over half (52%) say they know a little and 13% know a lot. Just over a quarter (27%) feel they don’t know a lot and 8% know nothing at all;

• Londoners are uncertain whether water cannons are already available for use – 36% think they are, 41% don’t think they are and 24% don’t know; • 70% agree that water cannons could fill a gap in the Met police toolkit if faced with serious public disorder (12% disagree); • 60% feel water cannons would be useful for policing London (18% don’t feel they would be useful);

• 68% agree there is a ‘small limited role’ for water cannons in dealing with the most serious public disorder in London (17% disagree);

• Over half (52%) would be more confident in the Met police’s ability to respond to serious disorder/rioting if they were able to use water cannons. 27% don’t think the water cannons would make any difference to their confidence in the police and 13% feel water cannons would make them less confident in police ability.