Boris Johnson’s water cannon have finally gone on the market, a year after Theresa May, then Home Secretary, blocked their use on London’s streets.
Mr Johnson and policing deputy Stephen Greenhalgh paid the German federal police almost £200,000 for the vehicles which were already approaching the end of their working life and before asking whether ministers would approve their deployment.
When a safety audit commissioned by the Home Office revealed a list of failings with the cannon, Mrs May blocked their use.
Today Mayor Sadiq Khan confirmed that the total cost of the three vehicles, including purchasing, fitting out and repairing them, has now reached almost £330,000 which could otherwise have been spent on frontline policing.
The expenditure includes £19,000 on repainting them, £5,000 addressing corrosion to the body work, £3,000 to fit sirens and almost £1,000 fitting a Radio / CD player.
Mr Khan said the vehicles were now up for sale to any “reputable” buyer who came forward and pledged any proceeds would go towards helping tackle gang crime. The sale is being managed by the Ministry of Defence and City Hall has stressed that the Mayor “will only permit a sale to a buyer who meets the most rigorous ethical standards.”
Revealing the total cost spent so far, Mr Khan said: “It beggars belief that such a huge amount of taxpayers’ money has been wasted on paying to store these redundant machines.
“We’ve been left in this position by the previous Mayor who rashly purchased them before he even had permission to use them, and now it’s my job to claw back as much of London taxpayers’ money as I can.
“I have spent a significant amount of time looking into how I can do this, and have been left with no choice but sell these machines through a process that charges a fee.”
Purchase and use of the cannon was opposed by all Labour, Green, Liberal Democrat and some Conservative members of the London Assembly serving during Mr Johnson’s second term as Mayor.
Today Liberal Democrat AM Caroline Pidgeon said: “Boris Johnson purchased water cannon without any authorisation for their use, but also against the clear advice of London Assembly Members.
“Londoners have paid a serious price for Boris Johnson’s folly on this issue.”
Labour AM Unmesh Desai said today’s news was “a welcome termination of one of Boris Johnson’s most embarrassing legacies.”
He added: “Investing in water cannon at a time when neighbourhood policing was being stripped back, and without a licence to even operate them, was an utter waste of money. With the water cannon not fit for London’s streets, even the Prime Minister wasn’t willing to give the purchase her backing.
“Water cannon have come to symbolise Boris Johnson’s willingness to put thought-through policies aside for the sake of his quest for headlines. Our opposition to the former mayor’s investment in water cannon has been vindicated but once again Londoners have paid a substantial price for his foolish decision.”
However Conservative AM Keith Prince, who was an advisor to Mr Greenhalgh, said: “Although they cannot currently be routinely used, the Met can apply for a special licence to deploy water cannon were we to have a repeat of events like the 2011 riots – a fact the Mayor is either ignoring or unaware of.
“These water cannon have been used to train officers for deployment in Northern Ireland for the past two years and could provide a vital service on London’s streets tomorrow if required.
“The Mayor wants to make this look like he’s shedding dead weight. The reality is he will get virtually nothing back for what are third-hand vehicles which are currently serving a useful purpose.”