Public Disorder (NUS Rally)

Statement to the House of Commons by Nick Herbert MP, Minister of State for Policing & Criminal Justice

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement on yesterday's public disorder at the National Union of Students rally. The House will be aware that yesterday, following a peaceful demonstration organised by the NUS, a violent faction directed a series of criminal acts against offices on Millbank. This Government have been clear that we are committed to supporting peaceful protest. Indeed, we included the restoration of the right to peaceful protest in our coalition agreement. However, as the Prime Minister said this morning, we are equally clear that when people are bent on violence and destruction of property, that is completely unacceptable.

The operational response to the violence is quite rightly a matter for the Metropolitan police, but I want to give the House an early indication of what happened yesterday, the action taken by the police and the follow-up action that will now be necessary. This information was provided at 9 o'clock this morning by the Metropolitan Police Service. The NUS initially predicted that yesterday's protest would attract around 5,000 demonstrators. On Tuesday, that estimate was revised upwards, to 15,000. The police had planned to deploy around 225 officers to the protest. It is now clear that that deployment was inadequate. As the situation developed during the day, an additional 225 officers were deployed.

In the initial stages, the march passed the Palace of Westminster in an orderly manner. However, that meant that vehicle access to the Palace was not possible for around two and a half hours. At about 1.10 pm, the front of the march reached the rally point at Millbank. At the same time, a group of protesters ran towards the Millbank office complex, which houses Conservative campaign headquarters. Protesters from the main march then seemed to be encouraged by a number of individuals to storm the building and throw missiles. Windows were broken and significant damage to the property was caused. Some protesters also managed to gain entry to the building, and some got on to the roof.

At the height of the disturbance, it is estimated that about 2,000 people were around Millbank. Many appeared not to be directly involved in violence, but it is now clear that a small hard core within this group were intent on violence. Additional officers were then deployed in public order protective equipment. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills was also attacked by a small number of protesters. At about 3 pm, the police were informed that members of staff in the Millbank complex were concerned for their safety. They advised them to stay in the building. Officers were deployed to make contact with the staff and secure their safety. That took some time to achieve. By 4 pm, police officers had located the staff members and, over time, arrangements were put in place to escort them from the building. The police then undertook a search of the office complex and made 47 arrests for criminal damage and aggravated trespass. The British Transport police have also made three arrests. Around 250 individuals were also searched, photographed and then released pending further investigation. Forty-one police officers received injuries. A small number were taken to hospital for treatment and were subsequently released.

The police are committed to bringing the criminals who carried out that violence before a court. The whole House will join me in condemning the minority who carried out those violent and criminal acts. There is no place for such behaviour in Britain's democracy. I thank the police officers who were deployed to the scene, and who helped to protect innocent bystanders. They acted with great courage, particularly those who were holding the line until reinforcements arrived.

Yesterday, during the incident, the Home Secretary was in contact with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson. She also spoke to the Mayor of London, and I spoke to Kit Malthouse, chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, which has responsibility for governance of policing in London. I commend Sir Paul for his swift and candid statement yesterday. I spoke to Kit Malthouse and Sir Paul this morning. The commissioner confirmed that the Metropolitan police will undertake an immediate and thorough review of its operational response to the incident. That will include an examination of why numbers and violence on this scale were not anticipated. The police have to strike a balance between dealing promptly and robustly with violent and unlawful activity on one hand, and allowing the right to protest on the other. Clearly, in this case the balance was wrong, but the decisions are difficult and are not taken lightly.

Let me finish by saying this: yesterday's protest and the policing clearly did not go to plan. The police will learn the lessons, but the blame and responsibility for yesterday's appalling scenes of violence lie squarely and solely with those who carried it out.

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11 November 2010


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