Boris Johnson has been accused of wasting £200,000 from the capital’s shrinking police budget after it emerged the Home Secretary has delayed the decision to approve use of his water cannon until after the General Election.
Although oversight of the Met is devolved to City Hall, the deployment and use of water cannon on the UK mainland requires Home Secretary Theresa May’s permission.
Despite not having received Mrs May’s approval, last June the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) bought three cannon from the German Federal police.
At the time MOPAC claimed the Met had faced competition from other international forces and that it could take up to two years to secure other cannon. However the German police have since cast doubt on those claims, insisting there were no rival bids for the vehicles.
A majority of London Assembly Members, including some of the Mayor’s Conservative colleagues, opposed the purchase even though Mr Johnson and senior Met officers say they’ll rarely be used and fill a vital gap in the force’s ability to maintain public order.
AMs have repeatedly warned that there is insufficient clarity about who will take the decision to use the cannon in response to any specific incident and are concerned about the safety of those they’re used against.
Last month the Mayor was urged to drop his support for the cannon after New York’s police commissioner said they had a “horrific history” in the US. The remarks came during the Mayor’s visit to the city.
Mr Johnson previously told AMs it was “highly unlikely” the Home Secretary would refuse permission.
However, on Wednesday the Evening Standard reported that Mrs May has “concluded that important concerns about safety and the impact on the nature of British policing have yet to be addressed — and is refusing to give the go-ahead during her remaining months at the Home Office.”
Today’s news means the three cannon may never be used if the incoming government fails to give the go-ahead and risks MOPAC having to sell them on at a loss.
Green party London Assembly member Baroness Jenny Jones said she was “delighted” that the Home Secretary has decided not to approve the cannon.
She commented: “The Mayor’s decision to buy these weapons in advance of the Home Secretary’s approval was rash and arrogant, and a waste of public money. I’m pleased the Home Secretary was able to see what the Mayor could not. Water cannon is an indiscriminate military weapon that has no place on our streets.”
Video: Jenny Jones AM questions Boris Johnson on water cannon
Labour’s Joanne McCartney AM said: “The Home Secretary’s refusal to approve water cannon for use on London’s streets should be a clear signal to Boris Johnson that he is the only one who thinks this ill-judged proposal is a good idea. Water cannon are not only extremely dangerous, they are bluntly indiscriminate tools which should have no place in our capital city.
“It’s time for the Mayor to accept he was wrong and to sell the water cannon he has already bought so we can reinvest the money in things the Metropolitan Police actually need. If he refuses, the public will undoubtedly conclude that he is more interested in continuing his militant posturing than doing what is best for the capital.
“The London Assembly have spoken with a clear and cross-party voice on this subject – we do not want water cannon in London. I am glad the Home Secretary agrees with us.”
Caroline Pidgeon AM, Leader of the Liberal Democrat London Assembly Group, said: “Unlike the Mayor the Home Secretary is showing commonsense on this issue.
“Water cannon runs the risk of injury of innocent people and it will certainly undermine policing by public consent. Yet at the same time it is an ineffective tool to manage serious public disorder situations.
“The Mayor has stubbornly pushed ahead with spending public money on water cannon and is now left with obsolete machines and the embarrassment of this waste of money.”
Conservatives on the Assembly said it was “only right that our Home Secretary should weigh up all the facts before making an informed decision on the use of water cannon in London”.
They want a wider review of tools available to the force, including consideration given to introducing sound cannon.
Tony Arbour AM said: “In emergency situations, such as the 2011 riots, where order breaks down, missiles are being thrown and shops looted by mobs, the police would benefit from having sound cannon.
“Costing as little as £18k, 25 times cheaper than Water Cannon, they look like satellite dishes and emit a targeted, high pitched alarm tone in short bursts.
“It also has a loud-hailer mode which can be used to broadcast verbal instructions and warnings from a long distance.
“They’ve been deployed in cities such as New York, Chicago and Barcelona. Indeed, given that they were available in London for the 2012 Olympics, why don’t the police have them already?”