The Policing Of A Coronation
In the early hours of the day that British monarchists were to crown Charlie Windsor as their new king, the police force that has a reputation for harbouring rapists in its ranks seemingly made possession of a rape alarm illegal.
Met police arrested a group of Westminster’s night safety volunteers “on suspicion of conspiracy to commit public nuisance”. The police seized the rape alarms that the volunteers offer to women who might be at risk on the streets of London.
The cops’ absurd excuse was that the alarms could be used to scare horses in the coronation procession. The right of women to protect themselves from rape went out the window. And any citizen might now be arrested for having in their possession something that could be used to scare a horse at some time in the future and in a different place.
That police force did not stop there.
At around 7 in the morning of coronation day a police snatch squad targetted Graham Smith, chief executive of Republic, and 5 other Republic members near Trafalgar Square. They were preparing for a pro-democracy demonstration about which they had previously been in close contact with the police. The police had said they would not stop the republican demo. But Smith and the others were locked up for sixteen hours without charges. When they were seized the police said that they would “figure out” the reason.
It seemed clear that they had been targetted to take out key organisers of the protest. This had nothing to do with spurious allegations of criminal activity.
Making their intentions very clear, the police seized the “Not My King” placards that Republic had brought in a hire van. And Republic’s megaphones were also taken.
The police claimed that the placards had “lock on” devices, which are illegal. They did not.
Not Our King
If there was any doubt about what the police were about with the arrests it was made clear later in the day.
Trafalgar Square, where the Republic protest was centred, was shut off by the police at 9am, preventing more republicans from joining the crowd. They put up a screen between republican protestors and the procession route to protect their monarch from sight of his democratic opponents. The police also went into a crowd and seized a “Not Our King” banner.
One cop warned the ‘If you chant “not my king” you’re creating a public nuisance and will be arrested’. A citizen holding up a copy of a Private Eye magazine cover with the words “Man in hat sits on chair”, was told that they were committing an arrestable offence. A journalist was held by police for 13 hours for “conspiracy to cause a public nuisance,.
“Just Stop Oil” protesters were arrested for having slogans on their t-shirts. Twenty Animal Rising supporters, who did not intend to protest the coronation, were arrested miles away from the protests while at non-violence training. Even an Australian monarchist who had come to see her king was seized by police and held for 13 hours.
The police told the news media that they had arrested 52 people because of “concerns” that they might disrupt the coronation procession. Apparently a cop no longer needed evidence, only “concern”.
Breach of the Peace
When they were more specific the cops said that they had acted on suspicion of a breach of the peace or conspiracy to commit a nuisance.
“Breach of the peace” is often used by British police to stop speech that the state does not like. It works like this. A protestor expresses a criticism of the monarchy. That makes a monarchist angry and they threaten violence. The republican is then arrested to prevent a breach of the peace by the angry monarchist. The republican is removed from the scene and locked up. The angry monarchist is free to go about their business.
On this day it was the monarchy’s peace and the peace of supporters of monarchy that the police saw as their duty to protect. So in addition to the well-established practice of arrest for breach of the peace we had the new suspicion of breach of the peace. Which can be understood only as meaning arrest when the police had witnessed no breach but merely thought there might have been or could be one.
And to add to that there was the new charge of conspiracy to cause a nuisance. No doubt for the police and their bosses republican protestors are always and everywhere a nuisance. But in what type of country is being a nuisance a crime in itself?
There were at least 52 arrests, 60% on conspiracy to cause public nuisance grounds.
Two days after the arrests the Met police apologised to Graham Smith and the others. It admitted that it had no evidence against them and specifically no evidence that they had “lock on” equipment. It “regretted” the arrests of innocent people.
This was an admission that the police had taken citizens off the street, had taken their property and had locked them up for up to 16 hours, all without evidence of wrong-doing. It was an admission of a full-frontal assault on civil liberties.
Yet the apology was not really believable.
It seemed to have been issued only from embarrassment at the bad publicity the Met police had received around the world. Not because the police now understood that they had done wrong.
The police statement said that “the investigation has been unable to prove intent to use them (the placard hand grips) to lock on and disrupt the event”. There was still the suggestion in this of wrong-doing by the republicans but which the police had been unable to prove after their absurd “investigation”.
The truth was that the police behaved so badly that even a former chief constable condemned them. Sue Sim, who once led the Northumbria Police said that “where you are talking about peaceful protest the whole thing for me is, what type of society do we want? We do not want a totalitarian police state”.
Wholehearted and Effusive Thanks
After all of this the police patted themselves on the back for a job well done for the monarchist state. The rights of the citizen seemed to count for very little in their reckoning.
Police Commissioner Mark Rowley said that that the cops who arrested the night safety workers, the pro-democracy protestors and the fervent monarchist and detained them for many hours “deserve our wholehearted and effusive thanks”. He did not believe that the events of coronation day gave any cause for him to “call out” “shortcomings” in the force he leads.
The police did say that they knew that there was “concern” about the arrests of innocent But it was anger and disgust that many felt, not “concern”. There was outrage at the detention of innocent people for many hours.
The police claimed that they had “intelligence” about threats to the crowning that justified their tactics. But of course that claimed “intelligence” was not made public.
When the crowning was over and the police tactics had been broadcast around the world, police Commander Karen Findlay thought that the fact that coronations were infrequent, what she called “once-in-a-generation”, events, justified arrests of innocent people and suspension of democratic rights.. .
Findlay also tried to justify her cops’ behaviour by saying that they had a duty to intervene “when protest becomes criminal and may cause serious disruption”. The problem with that was that arrests had been made when there was no evidence of criminal activity, nor serious disruption.
Following the apology and admission of absence of evidence of a crime police commissioner Mark Rowley (who uses the feudal title of “knight”) seemed far from contrite and far from an understanding of the rights of citizens in a democracy. His words suggest that he believes that his duty to the monarchical state should come before any duty to justice or the rights of the citizen.
In an extraordinary statement in which he tried to justify the actions of his cops , Rowley conveniently ignored the seizure and detention of the night safety volunteers. And the confiscation of their rape alarms. Also the seizure from the street and 13-hour detention of a monarchist celebrating the crowning of her king. He failed to explain how republicans who had obtained police approval for their protest were still arrested and imprisoned for 16 hours on the spurious grounds that the straps on their placards were “lock-on” devices. Detentions of 13 or 16 hours, well past the end of the coronation, were beyond any requirement of justice. That seemed to have been intended to punish and intimidate those who oppose monarchy. They certainly showed police contempt for the rights of the citizen.
Like some jackbooted wedding planner Rowley wanted a “perfect” coronation for his king. Nothing would be allowed to take the shine off of this spectacle of hereditary privilege, not even the right of free speech.
Given the chance to admit that the cops had made mistakes Rowley instead expressed pride an operation that had put peaceful republicans, night safety volunteers and a fervent monarchist in detention for many hours. This suggests that the cops who made the arrests were acting on orders. And Rowley could be confident that he would be supported by the monarchist state that puts the Windsors first and the rights of the people a long way below. Such is the country we live in.
Rowley thought it only “unfortunate” that the civil rights of republicans and night safety volunteers had been trampled on. But his cops had been right to make the unjustifiable arrests. In a frightening endorsement of mob rule he told news media that when monarchists cheered the unjustified arrests of their republican enemies, this showed that the police were justified in their actions. He also seemed to take satisfaction in noting that republicans were in a minority in the crowds.
Rowley did nothing to suggest that he understood the requirements of democracy. He described the coronation as a “celebration”, ignoring its political character and the way it makes manifest a denial of democratic rights. This mischaracterisation was no doubt intended to paint protestors as spoil sports rather than proponents of democracy.
Rowley also told us that “Officers worked around the clock to try to identify the full criminal network, establish the detail of their plans, and make arrests”. Despite working around the clock they identified and arrested, not this dastardly network, but night safety volunteers, a fervent monarchist, a journalist doing his job, and republicans exercising what used to be the right of free speech. None of the crimes the police told us their “intelligence” had told them about actually happened. The only disorder was that caused by the cops.
Commissioner Rowley said that the police had feared that white paint might be thrown during the coronation procession and that this provided justification for its repressive tactics. The truth is that every day more serious offences are disregarded by the police because they lack the resources to investigate.
The police federation that represents rank and file police also seemed blind to what his members had been up to. It representative thought that “Not one incident took place” on coronation day. He added that it “went off around the world without any need to worry”. The arrests of innocent people, to him, were not “incidents” and the international coverage of police misconduct caused him no concern. The success of the feudal ceremony was what was important.
The suppression of free speech did not matter.
Warning Had Been Given
British police officers swear allegiance to the Windsor family. And it is clear that the police see the protection of monarchy as an overriding responsibility and are told by their political bosses that that is so. Their job is not to protect free speech but to protect the lie that monarchy is benign, uniting and loved by all. On coronation day it was their job to limit the extent to which the spectacle, designed to reinforce the monarchy’s privileges, might be undermined.
They had given warning however The Met had declared that:
“Our tolerance for any disruption, whether through protest or otherwise, will be low. We will deal robustly with anyone intent on undermining this celebration.”
Undermining the “celebration” was, of course, what republicans legitimately wanted to do by exercising their right of free speech. By saying that monarchy is illegitimate and that they did not recognise Charlie Windsor as “king”.
The police statement made clear that they intended to take the side of the monarchy against democrats. They were more worried about displeasing the monarchist state than they were about infringing democratic rights, upholding justice, or acting fairly.
This should not have caused no surprised. For the police had form for the suppression of opposition to monarchy.
In 2011 when protests against monarchy were organised for the state-sponsored celebration of the marriage of a member of the Windsor family the police put a number of republicans in preventative detention, without charge and without evidence of crime, to stop them from joining the protests.
You can read about it here –
Britain’s Supreme Court subsequently held that this suppression free speech was lawful. Its ruling is here –
Findlay and Rowley followed in the footsteps of monarchist Commander Christine Jones, who in 2011 told the news media “Let us make it absolutely clear – this is a day of celebration, joy and pageantry. It is a fantastic day for Britain. Any criminals attempting to disrupt it”, she went on, “be that in the guise of protest or otherwise, will be met by a robust, decisive, flexible and proportionate policing response”.
Jones was a cheerleader for monarchy not an impartial enforcer of the law. The police tell us what we must feel about the monarchy and punish us if we do not.
Politicians Half-Hearted At Best
The arrests of innocent people were defended by the prime minister, who said that he was grateful to the police. And the government’s police minister. Culture secretary Lucy Fraser, said the police had to make a tough choice between freedom of speech and a smooth show. They chose to cancel free speech.
The fear that British opposition politicians have about being perceived as republican was apparent in the mostly half-hearted questioning of police behaviour. Former Labour shadow chancellor Ed Balls thought that the police must have had “intelligence” that justified the arrests of innocent people. The next day the police admitted that they had no evidence.
Jess Phillips, shadow minister for domestic violence said that she loved Camilla Windsor, the wife of the hereditary head of state. David Lammy, shadow foreign secretary declared that a Labour government would not repeal the laws used by the police to suppress dissent. And Wes Streeting:, shadow minister for health, rather than condemn the arrests, spoke vaguely about the need for the police to “provide . . accountability”.
Things That Touch The Heart of the Existing Order
These events happened in a country in which hollow ceremonies can seem more important than democratic rights. One that has a weak understanding of the right to free speech and in which republicanism has been portrayed by the elite as beyond the pale and unpatriotic.
This is the context in which the police approached the protests against the crowning and in which many citizens saw them. They would not have seen the protestors correctly as standing up for democracy. They saw them instead as extremists spoiling a lovely show.
“Freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.
“If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”
United States Justice Robert H. Jackson
British republicanism touches the heart of the existing order of unwarranted privilege for the Windsor clan, the legislature, the Church of England and other institutions. The police commissioner’s feudal knighthood ties him to this order.
It is in that context that the police have for long used “breach of the peace” as an excuse to silence those whose beliefs they do not like. They now have the additional charge of “conspiracy to cause a public nuisance” that makes a crime out of being a nuisance.
Tip Of The Iceberg
The coronation day events brought civil liberties in the UK to a new low. But as far as republicans are concerned, they were the tip of an iceberg of disrespect for the rights of republican citizens. Most notably republicans are barred from parliament, the judiciary and the armed forces unless they are willing to swear a false oath of loyalty to Charlie Windsor and his family.
May Hong Kong Show The Way?
Some wondered about how the Hong Kong police would react as the control of the communist party of China increased and political repression worsened. It seems that police who served a relatively democratic government have adapted without much difficulty to serving a much more tyrannical one.
After the events of coronation day it must be feared that British police would be no more reluctant to serve an even more repressive British government than are the police of Hong Kong.
You can be sure that there are no knighthoods or lordships for police who put the right of the people to free speech before the peace of the privileged.