News story

Home Secretary announces water cannon decision

Theresa May confirms she will not authorise the use of water cannon by police in England and Wales

Home Secretary Theresa May today (15 July) announced that she would not authorise water cannon as a policing tactic for operational use in England and Wales.

Before the Home Secretary made her decision, a full independent review of the medical implications of water cannon and a further review of the latest police guidance, training and maintenance documents were completed. Formal operational performance trials of the three Ziegler Wasserwerfer 9000 water cannon vehicles procured by the Metropolitan Police were conducted by the Home Office’s Centre for Applied Science and Technology.

The Home Secretary’s rationale for her decision was threefold:

  • The medical and technical assessment poses a series of direct and indirect medical risks from the use of water cannon. The machines under consideration have also required serious alterations and repairs to meet the necessary standards. The final assessment by the Scientific Advisory Committee on the Medical Implications of Less-Lethal Weapons (SACMILL) found 67 separate outstanding issues which would need to be addressed before they could be deployed.
  • Water cannon have limitations, especially in response to fast, agile disorder. Chief Constables also raised the possibility that they could attract crowds to a vulnerable location.
  • The deployment of water cannon in areas with a history of mistrust of the police has the potential to be entirely counterproductive and could negatively impact on public perceptions of police legitimacy.

Home Secretary Theresa May said:

The decision on whether to authorise water cannon is a serious one. Water cannon, without safeguards, have the capacity to cause harm. It is a police tactic that has not been used in Great Britain previously and there are those who argue that its introduction would change the face of British policing.

This country has a proud history of policing by consent and this is a decision which goes to its very heart. Since I became Home Secretary, I have been determined to give the police the powers and tools they need to cut crime and tackle disorder on our streets.

But where the medical and scientific evidence suggests that those powers could cause serious harm, where the operational case is not clear, and where the historic principle of policing by consent could be placed at risk, I will not give my agreement. The application for the authorisation of the Wasserwerfer 9000 water cannon does not meet that high threshold.