London’s Metropolitan Police Service has expressed “regret” over the arrests of anti-monarchy activists on Saturday, the day of King Charles III’s coronation.
It comes after the Met initially defended the dozens of arrests made on Saturday following fierce backlash, with many accusing the force of taking a heavy-handed approach toward demonstrators led by Britain’s largest anti-monarchy group, Republic.
Police arrested 64 people on coronation day. Among those were six anti-monarchy protesters, who have since been released and will face no further action, police said.
In a statement released Monday, the force did not apologize for the arrests but said it regretted the fact that activists were unable to join the planned protest because of the detentions.
Graham Smith, head of Republic, was among the six people arrested on Saturday. He said three Met Police officers visited his home on Monday to apologize and return the items that were confiscated from him during the arrest.
“They apologised while wearing a body cam. I made it clear the apology is not accepted as we will be taking further action,” he said on Twitter.
The Met said it made the arrests on Saturday based on the new and highly controversial Public Order Act, which came into effect when King Charles III signed it last week. The royal ascent is a formality, but its timing just days before the coronation raised eyebrows.
The new law gives police powers to take stronger action against people engaging in peaceful demonstrations. It criminalizes some long standing protest tactics, such as locking on, or physically attaching oneself to things like buildings and roads. It also gives police the power to shut down protests before any disruption even occurs.
Writing in the Evening Standard newspaper on Tuesday, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Mark Rowley said that, by Friday evening, his force had “become extremely concerned by a rapidly developing intelligence picture.”
He said the intelligence suggested some protesters were “intent on using rape alarms and loud hailers as part of their protest which would have caused distress to military horses.”
Rowley added that the Met had said in advance that “there would be a low tolerance of disruption and zero tolerance of security and safety threats.”
In a statement issued late Monday, the Met said the six Republic activists were arrested over concerns that they were “seeking to seriously disrupt the event” after officers found items that “could be used as lock-on devices” in their car.
However, police said that the investigation “has been unable to prove intent to use them to lock-on and disrupt the event.”
Smith said the group carried luggage straps which were intended to be used to secure their posters. “It was not physically possible to ‘lock on’ with them,” he said on Twitter.
Republic also said it spent months working with police liaison officers and meeting senior commanders in order to be able to protest during the coronation. Police said it was “not clear” at the time of the arrest that Smith was engaging with the protest liaison team and that the liaison team was not present during the arrests.
“While it is unfortunate that the six people affected by this were unable to join the hundreds of peaceful protestors, I support the officers’ actions in this unique fast-moving operational context,” Rowley said in his Evening Standard opinion piece.
The coronation was attended by a large number of VIP guests – including more than 100 heads of states – so security was tight throughout central London. The Met said before the event that the day would mark the largest policing action in decades.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who is responsible for the Met Police’s strategic goals, said Monday that he requested more clarity from the force. “While it’s vital the police are able to keep us safe, it must be balanced with protecting the right to peaceful protest – an integral part of democracy,” he said.