Met Police chief defends ‘professional’ officers at pro-Palestinian protest

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner has defended how officers handled a campaigner against antisemitism at a pro-Palestinian demonstration, describing their actions as “professional”.

Sir Mark Rowley admitted some of the words exchanged during the incident on April 13 were “clumsy and offensive”, but confirmed the officers involved would not be sanctioned.

Gideon Falter, chief executive of the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA), was threatened with arrest for breaching the peace by the officers policing the protest in central London, with one describing Mr Falter, who was wearing a kippah, as “openly Jewish”.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Monday that the force needed to rebuild the trust of the Jewish community, while Sir Mark faced calls to resign from Mr Falter and former home secretary Suella Braverman.

Before meeting Home Secretary James Cleverly on Monday, Sir Mark told The Guardian: “The sergeant at the scene clearly assessed that there was a risk of confrontation and was trying to help Mr Falter find a different route.

“I completely understand why the sergeant made this assessment. A couple of turns of phrase were clumsy and offensive … and we’ve apologised for that.

“The wider actions and intent of the officer were professional and in the best tradition of British police trying to prevent disorder.”

The commissioner said the officer was correct to stop Mr Falter after fearing there was danger of violence or disorder if direct contact with the pro-Palestinian marchers was made.

He said: “The public would be horrified if we said: well, it’s obvious if those two groups come together, there’s going to be a massive fight. We’ll stand back and wait till it happens and we’ll pick up the pieces afterwards.”

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan (Yui Mok/PA)

Sir Mark held meetings on Monday with Mr Cleverly and mayor of London Sadiq Khan, who said he has “full confidence” in the commissioner.

Representatives of Jewish community groups including the Community Security Trust and London Jewish Forum also met Sir Mark and Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist, who leads public order policing, on Monday morning.

The CST said it would continue to push for a reduction in the number of pro-Palestinian protests permitted in central London.

It released a statement after the meeting that said: “We will continue our dialogue with police later this week to express our concerns regarding the cumulative impact of the repeated anti-Israel protests in terms of disruption and intimidation of the Jewish community.

“We urge the police and Government to work together to find ways to limit this impact through reducing the number of protests, moving them to less disruptive locations and acting firmly and consistently whenever offences are committed by people on the demonstrations.”

After the meeting with Sir Mark, Mr Cleverly said: “Jewish people will always have the right to be able to go about their daily lives safely and freely, in London and across the UK.

“Sir Mark has reassured me he will make this clear to all sections of the community as a matter of urgency. The Met’s focus now is rightly on reassurance, learning from what happened, and ensuring that Jewish people are safe and feel safe in London. I support them in that critical endeavour.

“Public order policing is complex and challenging, but it remains incumbent on Sir Mark and the mayor of London to ensure that London is always a safe and welcoming city.

Israel-Hamas conflict
Gideon Falter speaking to a Metropolitan Police officer (Campaign Against Antisemitism/PA)

“The force’s focus should be on policing protests properly and fairly, and we will continue to back forces in using all necessary powers to manage these often difficult situations and to keep people safe.”

The force has apologised twice over the incident on April 13, issuing one initial statement and then saying sorry for its first apology which had suggested opponents of pro-Palestinian marches “must know that their presence is provocative”.

Footage of the exchange shows Mr Falter telling police he wants to cross a road to reach Kingsway in central London as crowds of pro-Palestinian protesters pass.

He tells one officer: “The Metropolitan Police says that these marches are completely safe for Jews, there is no problem whatsoever.

“You are telling me that I cannot walk to the other pavement. That I have to be escorted by you.”

The officer says: “I am telling you that I will help you by escorting you over there and that way you will be completely safe, just as we promised, so we are keeping our word.”

Mr Falter has since said he will turn up at the next pro-Palestinian march and encouraged other Jews and allies to join him.