With permission Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the appalling violence that took place during last week’s protests outside Parliament.
I want first to express my gratitude to those police officers and commanders who put themselves in harm’s way.
They showed great bravery and professionalism in the face of violence and provocation. It was this bravery that enabled this House to engage unhindered in democratic debate - I know that the whole House will want to send them our thanks.
I also want to thank Sir Paul Stephenson, who led the Metropolitan Police Service through a difficult operation and who serves London as Commissioner with distinction.
Honourable Members may find it useful if I recap last week’s events.
On Thursday, 3000 people assembled at the University of London Union to march through central London. By the time the crowd reached Parliament Square, police estimate the number of demonstrators had grown to 15,000.
The police maintained a barrier system outside the Palace of Westminster which allowed pedestrian access and the business of the House to continue at all times.
Concerted attempts were made to breach the barrier lines. Protestors threw bottles, stones, paint, golf balls and flares and attacked police with metal fencing.
A cordon was placed around Parliament Square but throughout, those who remained peaceful and wished to leave via Whitehall were able to do so. A large number of protesters remained, many of whom committed acts of violent disorder, damaging historic statues in Parliament square, breaking windows and starting fires. Sporadic disorder also took place in parts of the West End. It is quite clear that these acts were not perpetrated by a small minority but by a significant number of trouble makers.
Some students behaved disgracefully. But the police also assess that the protests were infiltrated by organised groups of hardcore activists and street gangs bent on violence.
Evidence from the other recent protests shows that many of those causing violence were organised thugs, as well as students. It is highly likely that this was also the case last week.
I want to be absolutely clear: the blame for the violence lies squarely and solely with those who carried it out. The idea - that some have advanced - that police tactics were to blame when people came armed with sticks, flares, fireworks, stones and snooker balls, is as ridiculous as it is unfair.
We have a culture of policing in this country that is based on popular consent and trust between the police and the public and that must continue.
Thursday’s police operation involved 2,800 officers: more than 30 officers were injured of whom 6 required hospital treatment. All six have now been discharged from hospital. 43 protesters were injured.
The IPCC has already begun an independent investigation into the incident which left one protestor seriously injured - Honourable and Right Honourable Members will understand that it would not be appropriate for me to comment further on this incident while the IPCC investigation is ongoing.
The Metropolitan Police have confirmed that 35 people have been arrested so far. I expect this number to rise significantly as the criminal investigation continues. I can confirm to the House that there has been a good public response to the police’s request for information on 14 key perpetrators of violence photographs of whom they published on Sunday. The Met will continue to publish pictures of other key individuals in the week ahead.
I also want to inform the House about the attack on the Royal Car. The House will be aware that on their way to an engagement in central London, the car carrying the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall was attacked by several protesters.
There has been much speculation about the Duchess being struck through the window of the car and I understand that there was some contact made.
The Metropolitan Police Commissioner has ordered an urgent review of the royalty protection arrangements in place on the night and I can tell the House that the review is due to report by Friday 17th December. But Honourable Members will understand that for security reasons, the public details of the report may be limited.
I will await the findings of that review before deciding what, if any, further action is needed.
The Prince and the Duchess have already expressed their gratitude to the police. I am sure that the whole House will join with me in condemning all of the acts of violence that took place last week. And I call on the organisers of the protests to unequivocally condemn violence as well.
This Government is determined to protect the right to peaceful protest - but violence is absolutely unacceptable and the perpetrators of that violence must be brought to justice.