Government considers 'thug' crackdown

The Government is considering a crackdown on hooligans who cause trouble at public protests in the wake of the "mindless violence" which marred a huge union-organised demonstration.

Home Secretary Theresa May raised the prospect of new powers to ban known hooligans from attending rallies and marches and forcing people to remove face-scarves and balaclavas.

The move came as controversy continued to rage over events in central London on Saturday, when up to 500,000 people staged a peaceful protest against Government spending cuts, which was hijacked by gangs of violent youths.

Ms May praised police, who came under attack during hours of violence in the West End, telling the Commons: "I want to condemn in the strongest possible terms the mindless behaviour of the thugs responsible for the violence."

The minister said 149 out of 200 arrested had been charged and warned that the number will increase as officers study video evidence, as they did after last year's student protests.

"The message to those who carry out violence is clear - you will be caught and you will be punished. Just as the police review their operational tactics, so we in the Home Office will review the powers available to the police.

"I have asked the police whether they need further powers to prevent violence before it occurs. I am willing to consider powers which would ban known hooligans from rallies and marches and I will look into the powers the police already have to force the removal of face-coverings and balaclavas.

"If the police need more help to do their work, I will not hesitate in granting it to them."

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said Labour condemned the "few hundred mindless idiots" responsible for violence.

"In a democracy this kind of violence is no form of political protest," she told MPs. "It is violent assault and criminal damage, it is thuggish behaviour of the worst kind and it must face the full force of the law."

Police are considering using stop and search powers to prevent troublemakers disrupting next month's royal wedding, a senior commander confirmed today.

Metropolitan Police Commander Bob Broadhurst said officers would be taking action to prevent a repeat of the weekend's violence.

London mayor Boris Johnson was embroiled in a row with unions after suggesting that organisers of the TUC march should contribute towards the cost of clearing up the damage.

"Obviously there has been damage to property and it would be a wonderful thing, frankly, if the organisers of the march would contribute to the costs of clearing it up."

Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said: "Boris Johnson is right to say that the violence on Saturday had nothing to do with the hundreds of thousands of peaceful protesters on the TUC march.

"It is therefore ridiculous to suggest that the TUC should pay towards the clean-up operation. Will he ask the Queen and Prince Philip to chip in if there is violence on the royal wedding day?"

TUC official Nigel Stanley said: "It is disappointing that the mayor can't tell the difference between the near half-million peaceful TUC demonstrators and the tiny number of trouble-makers for whom we have no responsibility."

The mayor added that police will use "all reasonable means" to prevent similar scenes at the royal wedding next month, adding: "I just want to make it clear that it is absolutely incomprehensible if people were to seek to destruct the royal wedding. I think people really wouldn't forgive or understand that kind of behaviour.

"We are looking at all the intelligence we are getting and will be talking to the police over the next few days to see what's coming in, and I can assure people that the police are prepared to use all reasonable means to make sure that the royal wedding goes off brilliantly well and we don't see that kind of bad behaviour."

Labour demanded that Mr Johnson retract a claim that its leader Ed Miliband was "satisfied" by the scenes of violence surrounding the march.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Mr Johnson criticised the Labour leader for failing to spell out in his speech to demonstrators what cuts he would impose if he were prime minister.

The Home Secretary said that "on the whole" the police operation was a success, adding that 56 officers were injured, 12 of whom needed hospital treatment, while 53 members of the public were hurt.

Ms May said the cost of the damage to shops and banks in Oxford Street and Piccadilly would be "significant" and revealed to MPs she was looking into the operation of the 1866 Riot Act in relation to making those responsible pay for the clean-up.