Pin It
Photo Kristian Buus/In Pictures via Getty Images

The Met’s abuse of power comes as no surprise

The police arrested 64 people on Saturday, including six members of anti-monarchy group Republic. Here, we speak to activist Patrick Thelwell, who was detained on suspicion of ‘carrying eggs’

How will history remember Charles’ coronation? As ‘the one where Katy Perry turned up wearing a disgusting outfit’? Or ‘the one where Penny Mordaunt held a big sword’? Or perhaps – as I’m hoping – it’ll be remembered as the one where the Met repressed non-violent republican protestors.

On Saturday, one-third of the entire Met police were deployed as part of ‘Operation Golden Orb’, the codename for the coronation security strategy. They arrested no fewer than 64 people. One was a journalist reporting on the protest. Three were volunteers who were handing out rape alarms. Six were members of the anti-monarchy group Republic.

Organisers of the Republic protest had participated in months of briefings and meetings with the Met, cooperating with them fully in the run up to the event. Graham Smith, the campaign’s leader, had been assured by police that “they had no concerns”. Instead, he was arrested early on Saturday and held in custody for 14 hours, before being released without charge.

According to the Met, four of the Republic demonstrators “were held on suspicion of conspiracy to cause public nuisance. We seized lock-on devices.” ‘Locking-on’, of course, has been illegal since the Public Order Act was rushed into law ahead of the coronation earlier this month. It’s now also illegal for protestors to carry equipment that could be used to lock on, which can include anything from string to sellotape. Smith has said that the so-called “lock-on devices” in his possession were luggage straps, which were actually being used to hold together bundles of placards and signs.

23-year-old Patrick Thelwell – perhaps best known as the activist who egged Charles back in November – was arrested, they suspect, after being identified by the police’s live facial recognition technology. “Obviously, I have a previous conviction for throwing eggs at the King. I’m not stupid enough to do that twice because I would have definitely gone to prison,” they tell Dazed. “But then I got a tap on the back and I turned around and there were a bunch of cops who had come to arrest me.” Their reason for arresting Thelwell? “All they told me as I was being searched was that it was on suspicion of carrying eggs.”

The handcuffs the officers used on Thelwell were so tight that they were in “excruciating” pain. When Thelwell asked for the cuffs to be loosened, the officers did the opposite, and tightened them instead. “Because I was so angry I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of seeing me in pain, but I’ve got cuts on my wrists from it,” they say. “That’s pigs for you.” Finally, after searching Thelwell and finding nothing – and no eggs – the officers released them. 

Seeing the widespread backlash to the severe repression of protestors, the Met has now backtracked and conceded that it “regrets” its actions on Saturday. Two officers also offered a personal apology to Smith (although he has said he does not accept the apology and will be exploring taking legal action). “It was not our intention to prevent protest [...] Any suggestion all protest was prohibited is not correct,” the Met tweeted on Monday. But it’s hard to believe when just last week the account tweeted 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”. It’s even harder to believe when the Casey report found the force to be institutionally racist, sexist, and homophobic – hardly the qualities of a fair and just organisation.

“This is far more than just a lapse of judgement,” Thelwell says. “This is a coordinated effort by the government to suppress dissent [...] Looking at the Met’s actions, the arrests of the Republic organisers and Graham Smith – pre-emptive arrests without justification – that, for me, is fascism.”

Some might think the suggestion that Met police’s actions were intentional and coordinated is plain wrong – perhaps officers were simply facing extreme pressure from the palace or government and made rash decisions as a result. But the precise reason why the police reacted this way is almost irrelevant anyway, when the end result is the same. As John Elledge wrote in the New Statesman: “police claims that we still have a right to protest no longer matter, once the same police force has started nicking people for the mere intention to protest.”

Countless activists, journalists and politicians have raised hell over these new laws which grant police more powers – namely the Public Order Act and Policing Act – and warned that these could lead to more repressive, undemocratic behaviour from police. Notably, the Civicus Monitor, an international body that analyses countries’ democratic health, recently downgraded Britain in its annual index of civic freedoms. They stated that the government has created a “hostile environment” for charities, campaigners and other civil society groups and singled out the Public Order Act and Policing Act as undemocratic pieces of legislation.

Many of these warnings went unheeded. Worse still, The Telegraph even went as far as suggesting that the new rules were still too “soft”. But cheering on undemocratic legislation when it promises to repress your enemies will almost always come back to bite you, and sure enough, The Telegraph has now slammed the repression of protestors at the coronation as draconian. Conservative MP David Davis, admittedly one of the three Tories who voted against the Public Order Bill, has also denounced the Public Order Act as “too broad” and called for it to be scrutinised. 

It took Republic protesting ‘nicely’ for many to wake up to the reality that the police are a threat to democracy, and are not there to protect us at all. They have never been: as Melissa Céspedes del Sur highlights in a recent openDemocracy article, the Met police was created in 1829 after the ruling class needed a way to “suppress and control” the working class as they moved into urban areas following the industrial revolution. The real challenge now is getting people to see that the extreme repression at the coronation was a feature, not a bug, of such an authoritarian police force – and that the only truly democratic way forward is abolishing the Met entirely.

Join Dazed Club and be part of our world! You get exclusive access to events, parties, festivals and our editors, as well as a free subscription to Dazed for a year. Join for £5/month today.