Assembly says no to case for water cannon

27 February 2014

The Mayor of London and the Metropolitan Police have failed to make the case for purchasing second hand water cannon for potential deployment in London this summer, a new report by the Assembly Police and Crime Committee has concluded.

The report, Water Cannon: Why the Met’s case doesn’t wash[1], rejects the argument for an ‘interim solution’ of purchasing three 23-year-old water cannon from Germany ahead of a Home Office decision on the national case for making the weapons available for deployment for the first time on mainland Britain.

The Police and Crime Committee highlight the fact that, once purchased by the Met, the water cannon would be available for use by police forces across the country despite there being no nationwide consultation on this significant change to the approach to British public order policing.

While the Mayor and senior police officers have said water cannon would be ‘rarely seen and rarely used’, in their evidence to the Committee they demonstrated different expectations as to when and where water cannon might have been used in past public disturbances. Nor was there clarity about what role the Mayor would play in decisions to use water cannon on London’s streets.

Chair of the Police and Crime Panel, Joanne McCartney AM, said:

“There is no convincing argument for the Mayor’s decision to fund water cannon for the Met for deployment by this summer.

“The Met is pressing for what it calls an “interim solution” without clear justification for its urgency. In doing so, it is preventing a full and proper national public debate about water cannon.

“Professional police officers often press for additional powers and equipment; it is the responsibility of politicians to ensure these are really necessary for the protection of the public, not a creeping infringement of our rights.”

The report’s conclusions are:

  • The Met has not set out a convincing case for why water cannon are needed as an interim arrangement for deployment in London by summer 2014.
  • The examples of disorder that the Met has chosen to demonstrate the potential for water cannon appear contradictory. The Met has not been able to explain how water cannon would have been deployed in these incidents.
  • Much of the debate has considered the disorder in England in 2011 but analysis has shown that water cannon would have been of very limited – if any – use in preventing or tackling those events.
  • The decision to purchase water cannon is a significant departure for British policing but the consultation has been limited. The purchase of water cannon is not just a matter for London and the rest of the country needs an opportunity to debate this issue before a final decision is made.
  • The small number of incidents the Met identified where water cannon could potentially have been used over the past ten years illustrates the complexities of deciding whether to deploy. There is a difference of opinion between the Mayor and the Met as to how the Mayor would be consulted on the use of water cannon.
  • The Met and Mayor have argued that water cannon would be rarely seen and rarely used. If licenced the Committee would want assurances about the safeguards that will be put in place.

Notes to editors

  1. Water canon: Why the Met’s case doesn’t wash
  2. Joanne McCartney AM, Chair of the Police and Crime Committee, is available for interview. See contact details below.
  3. The Police and Crime Committee is responsible for examining the activities of the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime and investigating matters it considers to be of importance to policing and crime reduction in London.
  4. The Police and Crime Committee is established under s32 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011.
  5. As well as investigating issues that matter to Londoners, the London Assembly acts as a check and a balance on the Mayor.