Water cannon use has no place in a democratic society

If Boris Johnson had listened to the public he could have saved more than £300,000


Eighteen months ago some friends and I heard about Boris Johnson’s proposal to introduce water cannon as a new police weapon onto the streets of London.

We were concerned about what this might mean for us, and for many other people across our city who depend on the right to peacefully protest and express our political views as part of this country’s democratic process. We decided to look into the issue further.

It didn’t take long for us to discover many grave concerns about these weapons. The Association of Chief Police Officers warned of the horrific physical harm water cannon can cause, stating that they are ‘capable of causing serious injury or even death’.

Five out of the six largest police authorities, several Police and Crime commissioners, and former Metropolitan Police commissioner Lord Blair all refused to support Mr Johnson’s proposal – with concerns about the indiscriminate nature and force of the weapons.

Mrs May herself also raised the alarm back in 2010, highlighting how water cannon would fundamentally undermine the relationship of trust between the public and police – a relationship that was, and still remains, incredibly fragile.

As my friends and I organised more of a coordinated campaign against the mayor’s proposal, it became clear that the vast majority of Londoners also shared our views.

Over 41,000 signed a petition against water cannon, and 2,547 wrote to the mayor against the idea, compared to only 59 in favour.

Hundreds also turned up to a public meeting at City Hall to hear the shocking warning of German pensioner Dietrich Wagner, whose eyelids were torn and the lenses of his eyes permanently damaged after being blasted by the full force of a water cannon during an environmental demonstration in Stuttgart five years ago.

He said:

“When I was hit, it was like being punched by a giant boxer, and I have lost nearly all sight. I am lucky to be alive. The use of water cannon is akin to the breakdown of the democratic process. I strongly urge the mayor of London, Theresa May and London’s police not to introduce this weapon.”

Despite such overwhelming public opposition, and despite being voted against by London Assembly members, Boris Johnson still recommended approval of water cannon by the home secretary in March last year.

He even wasted £328,883 of public money purchasing three disused weapons from Germany, which had been classified as too dangerous for further use!

After an utterly flawed ‘engagement’ process, in which the views of Londoners, the police and leading politicians were completely ignored by Boris Johnson, it is great that Theresa May has finally listened to our concerns and made the right decision for England and Wales.

While much more work still needs to be done to tackle police misconduct and lack of public trust in the police, we are delighted that the home secretary has recognised how dangerous these weapons are, and how damaging they would be for civil liberties and the future of policing in this country.

Now is the time to extend this ban to Northern Ireland, where the continued use of water cannon remains just as unacceptable.

Rebecca Newsom is a member of the No to Water Cannon campaign 

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