Back in the summer Mayor Sadiq Khan and policing deputy Sophie Linden got a fair bit of flak over the tone of a Met Police media event and PR run heralding the launch of Operation Hercules which saw additional firearms officers deployed around the capital.
The photo-op allowed the media to photograph and interview heavily armed, masked officers alongside their weapons and other equipment.
A number of London Assembly members weren’t impressed with the resulting images and marketing of the operation – at September’s Mayor’s Question Time Labour AM Len Duvall suggested it’d been a mistake to focus on the weapons and equipment officers had access to “rather than the emerging threat we face”.
He also cautioned that the images resulting from the photo-op may not sit well with some of London’s communities.
This was also raised by UKIP AM Peter Whittle who asked “What do you think will be the effect of the deployment of masked and armed paramilitary police on relations between the police and the public?”
In answer to both, the Mayor was clear it was “important” to not “unduly alarm Londoners but instead reassure the public about the work that is taking place.”
During his answer to Duvall, Sadiq also said he “was not consulted specifically about the public relations (PR) and messaging that accompanied the launch of Operation Hercules.”
At a meeting of the Assembly’s Police and Crime committee the following week Tory AM Tony Arbour questioned whether this meant anyone could phone the Mayor’s office at short notice and ask for his presence at a photo-op without being asked what the point of the exercise was.
This interpretation of Sadiq’s comments was disputed by Deputy Mayor Linden who said the Mayor would have been consulted on the photos he appeared in but not any wider Met marketing.
Looking back at the transcript her’s does seem the more accurate reflection of the Mayor’s comments but on one point Arbour seems to have been unknowingly close to the truth.
Emails released to me as part of a Freedom of Information request seem to imply that the Mayor’s office were given very short notice of the media event.
I’m still waiting for the Met to send me their end of the email chain but those from within City Hall start at 20.46hrs on August 2nd – the day before the event – and make it clear that the Met were leading on the press invites and the drafting of a press release which would be sent to the City Hall “to add a Mayor quote.”
What’s also clear from the emails is that the nature and tone of the images Sadiq would appear in were discussed by him and Met Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe.
According to the emails, during this chat the Mayor issued a “definite no” to suggestions that the event include one of the force’s Jankel armoured vehicles.
The emails don’t explain Sadiq’s reasoning but his later comments about not unduly alarming Londoners probably allow us to fairly imply this was the reason. If you’ve never seen one, the vehicles have a brutal and very oppressive look to them.
So despite him soaking up some pretty barbed criticisms about what some see as the insensitive nature of the Operation Hercules launch, it seems but for the Mayor’s objections even more kit would have been on display and the pictures would have been even more alarming.