Militant Muslim protesters could face arrest on charges of incitement to murder after calling for those responsible for publishing offensive cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed to be beheaded, police warned.
Ministers gave the clearest signal that they expected the police to act, after a public outcry over their failure to make arrests when demonstrators in London waved placards calling for those responsible for offending their faith to be murdered.
Tory MPs accused police of failing to use existing laws against incitement to murder. The Metropolitan Police indicated that officers wanted to avoid provoking public disorder by making arrests at the demonstration outside the Danish embassy. Officers were examining more than 60 hours of videotape of the protesters to identify suspects and establish evidence for arrests. They said more than 500 complaints had been made by the public.
Assistant Commissioner Stephen House, leading the inquiry, said: "My judgement is that there will be arrests. It is quite clear that there were a number of potential offences around the placards that were being carried but also around the chanting." He said protesters could face charges of incitement to murder, incitement to religious or racial violence, and public order offences.
Mr House said the march had been spontaneous and he had personally taken the decision not to arrest people while it was going on. "I believe that had we intervened in that march, I am in no doubt whatsoever there would have been violence." It was revealed that two days later, last Sunday, the police had intervened to prevent protesters displaying offensive placards in a second demonstration outside the embassy.
Ministers initially condemned the publication of the cartoons in Danish and other European newspapers, and last weekend called for calm, but their rhetoric hardened on Monday after pressure for arrests mounted.
Andrew Motion, the Poet Laureate, resigned yesterday from the editorial and advisory board of The Liberal - a fringe newspaper of the Liberal Democrats - after it published the Danish cartoons on its website. "I think it is a very bad idea indeed and it is the first I have heard of it," said Mr Motion after hearing of the publication. "I don't see what they can possibly hope to achieve." Ben Ramm, 23, the editor, later withdrew the cartoons from the website after being warned by police that he could be at risk. Mr Ramm said: "In France, journalists and editors were offered protection. I was specifically told by Scotland Yard that there were finite resources."
David Blunkett, the former home secretary, intervened in the row about why it took so long before Abu Hamza was prosecuted for inciting racial hatred and murder. Mr Blunkett said in an article for The Sun that the agencies told him when he was Home Secretary that he was exaggerating the threat and that to close the Finsbury Park mosque, where Abu Hamza preached in north London, would be "a massive over-reaction".Reuse content