Anger at £4m cost of policing arms fair

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The Independent Online

A senior police chief has spoken out against the weapons manufacturers and organisers of the London exhibition for refusing to pay for the protection from anti-arms demonstrators. He also warned that next month's four-day arms conference will "denude" the Metropolitan Police at a time of severe pressure.

The Metropolitan Police is planning to ask the Home Office to change the regulations to force exhibitors to pay for the external policing, or ask the Ministry of Defence, which jointly organises the event, to pay the costs.

Hundreds of peace campaigners are expected to hold a series of protests outside the defence exhibition at the ExCel conference centre in Docklands, London, which begins on 13 September. About 1,200 arms manufacturers will be showing their wares to foreign buyers.

But the Metropolitan Police has told The Independent that the force will have to deploy 1,000 officers at the event every day at a total cost of £4m.

Assistant Commissioner Steve House, the head of the Met's central operations, which covers riot squad officers and the firearms unit, said: "It is denuding London of policing at a time of unprecedented demand. The defence industry makes huge profits. I think we should be getting some money from the people exhibiting inside the centre. At the moment the taxpayers are having to pay. I don't think it looks right or is right."

He added: "It is going to cost £4m with no money coming from the exhibition because the protests are taking place outside. There is a substantial public order threat, but the law does not allow us to charge for that. It's not dissimilar for people in football who are charged for policing inside the ground but not in the surrounding streets."

The arms fair - the Defence Systems and Equipment International (DSEi) - claims to be the "world's largest international tri-service defence exhibition" with manufacturers from 26 countries. The MoD invite potential buyers from around the world to visit the exhibition that is considered a showcase for Britain's arms industry. When it was last held in Docklands in 2003, 57 countries, including Algeria, Angola, Colombia, Pakistan and India, accepted the MoD's invitation to attend.

Anti-arms protest groups are preparing a series of demonstrations. The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) is planning a march to the ExCel centre on the first day of the conference. The following day protesters hope to disrupt traffic and visitors going to the centre.

A spokesman for Spearhead Exhibitions, the conference organisers, said the policing bill was "monstrous". He said: "It should not be forgotten, however, why the bill is so high. There are legitimate demonstrators, but it's the 'spiker' protesters who break the law - that is why so many police are needed."

In 2003 hundreds of protesters turned out to demonstrate in east London and there were clashes with police in which about 100 people were arrested.

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