London Mayor Boris Johnson backs water cannon use in the capital

Campaigners have accused him of ignoring public concern towards the machines that have been known to cause blindness

Kashmira Gander
Wednesday 19 March 2014 22:52 GMT

London Mayor Boris Johnson is supporting plans to allow the Metropolitan Police to use water cannon in the capital, amid accusations that he ignored public opposition to the move.

Thousands of people contested plans to buy the machines during a public consultation by City Hall, as well as in online petitions.

However, Mr Johnson cited the results of a survey carried out for the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) to argue that Londoners support the plans.

In the poll of 4,223 people over the age of 16, 68 per cent agreed that they had a "small, limited role" in dealing with "the most serious public disorder", meaning “the potential for loss of life, serious injury or widespread destruction to property”.

Mr Johnson said: “No-one wants to see water cannon routinely deployed on the streets of London but having carefully weighed up all the evidence, I have concluded there is broad support amongst Londoners for the use of this measure by the police in limited circumstances.”

If implemented, three of the machines would be bought for the Metropolitan Police from Germany at a cost of up to £300,000. They would then be modified for use on UK soil.

In a letter sent by Mr Johnson to Home Secretary Theresa May in February, the Mayor confirmed that the move by the Metropolitan Police came as a direct result of the summer riots in 2011.

But Mrs May, who must licence the machines for use, has previously refused to provide central Government funding for the cannons in London.

A successful bid by the Mayor would see an independent ethics panel, headed by barrister Lord Carlile, set up to assess when the water cannon should be used.

Lawyers from advice charity the Police Action Centre have been asked to apply for a judicial review of the Mayor's decision.

London Assembly member Jenny Jones said she was please that the review was going ahead.

"The Mayor has ignored the responses to his own engagement which were 59 in favour compared to 2,547 against water cannon," she said.

“He has also ignored the detailed assessment published by the London Assembly, including members of his own Party and team.

"He has by-passed informed opinion and pushed ahead with his plans to let the police have this weapon. Water cannon has no place on our streets," she added.

Water cannon have so far only been used by UK police officers in Northern Ireland, where they were introduced to quell public disorder during the Troubles.

In other countries the machines have been linked to injuries including broken bones. German protester Dietrich Wagner was blinded when he was hit by a jet from one of the machines, and travelled to London last month to lobby against Mr Johnson's plans.

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