London’s policing watchdog has been told there are no plans for the Met to buy new, fully working water cannon following the Home Secretary’s decision to block the use of three ageing German vehicles in the capital.
Last week Theresa May rejected an application from the Met and Mayor Boris Johnson to use the cannon citing a report which found 67 separate failings in the vehicles and concerns the they would change the consensual nature of British policing.
The evidence Mrs May relied on when making her decision was today questioned by Stephen Greenhalgh, London’s deputy mayor for Policing and Crime, who told the London Assembly’s police and crime committee that all issues with the vehicles had already been addressed.
Mr Greenhalgh also questioned the right of Mrs May to overrule the Mayor and himself.
In response, Labour Assembly Member Len Duvall said the Home Secretary had always retained backstop powers over policing and that Mr Greenhalgh and the Mayor knew her permission was needed to use the cannon when they decided to spend £218,000 on them.
In response to questions from Mr Duvall, the Met’s deputy Commissioner, Craig Mackey said the force was “not sitting around planning the purchase of new equipment” which might be approved by the Home Secretary despite senior officers believing there was a role for the cannon in maintaining public order.
Mr Greenhalgh said it was now clear water cannon “will not be an option as long as Theresa May remains Home Secretary”.
Mr Mackey also confirmed to Liberal Democrat AM Caroline Pidgeon that the force would comply with a request by any incoming Mayor to sell the cannon but told AMs that if the Met lacked water cannon, officers could be forced to use baton rounds in the event of future riots, commenting: “You have to go up the continuum” of approved equipment.
Greenhalgh told AMs that the deal with the German police prohibited him from making a profit from any sale of the cannon, but suggested it could be possible to sell them on without making a loss.
In addition to the £218,000 purchase price, the Met is paying £580 per cannon per month to store and maintain the vehicles.
Mr Greenhalgh told the Assembly that the vehicles had a ten year mechanical life span and not the 3 years previously reported, meaning the force could pay as much as £208,000 to store vehicles he says would be used only one or two times in a decade.
Speaking after today’s meeting, committee chair Joanne McCartney AM said: “It was surprising to hear the Deputy Mayor’s comments today and frankly if I were the Home Secretary I would be annoyed by what he said.”
She said committee members “believe a case did not exist for the Mayor’s decision to fund water cannon and will be interested to see what, if anything, the Deputy Mayor and MOPAC do next, if they really believe that water cannon is an essential part of the Met’s toolkit.
“Perhaps it’s time for the Mayor and Deputy Mayor to get over this embarrassment and move on – as it still appears to us that the purchase was a complete waste of taxpayer’s money.”
Fellow committee member Caroline Pidgeon AM said: “It is clear that the Deputy Mayor for Policing is in absolute denial on this issue. He seems unwilling to concede that even the smallest mistake has been made.
“Although he runs away from it, the reality is that he has wasted public money and the Home Secretary was entirely right in her decision.”