Theresa May clashes with Cameron over use of plastic bullets

  • @tompeck

Theresa May said police were right not to use rubber or plastic bullets to stop rioters, putting the Home Secretary at odds with the Prime Minister, David Cameron, who had sanctioned their use in a speech to Parliament last week. "We risk important public support if we rush to use things such as rubber bullets," she said in London yesterday.

Her comments came as the acting Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Tim Godwin, revealed he has had discussions with the Government over changing the law to allow the police to disable social-networking sites at times of crisis.

Mr Cameron told the House of Commons on Thursday that he had approved use of the controversial weapons, which were deployed in Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles but have not been used in mainland Britain.

Ms May said: "We made it clear to the police that there was nothing to stop them using baton rounds if they judged it necessary, and water cannon stationed in Northern Ireland was made available on 24-hour standby.

"The police were clear they did not want to use them, and, in the end, what restored order was officers on the streets and robust policing with the help and support of local communities."

The Met's Deputy Assistant Commissioner, Stephen Kavanagh, admitted police had considered using the rounds, but said the fast-moving nature of the mobs meant they might not have been effective.

The head of the Association of Chief Police Officers, Sir Hugh Orde, also said water cannon would be highly ineffective and unlikely to be deployed. "Without extremely violent and static crowds, they are useless," he said.

Mr Godwin told the Home Affairs Select Committee that he wanted to disable Twitter during the height of the riots but was legally unable to do so. "I contemplated seeking the authority to switch it off. The legality of that is very questionable. It is something we are pursuing as part of our investigative strategy," he said.

Keith Vaz, the committee's chairman, said he "did not realise" the police had considered the option, but agreed it should be looked at. Social media had allowed "people to turn up at very short notice to demonstrate and riot", he said. "We should look at whether we should give power to the police to order social-media sites to behave in a certain way."