Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley has called for greater clarity from the Government on policing extremism as he faces criticism over the handling of pro-Palestinian protests in London.
The head of the country’s biggest police force said about 100 people had been arrested at demonstrations held since the Hamas attack on Israel three weeks ago, with “many more” arrests expected in the near future.
But he said his officers are limited by legal definitions of extremism and arresting people without cause could risk “inflaming” the situation with the protesters.
Sir Mark said he would support a review into the legal definition of extremism and how it should be policed.
He told Trevor Phillips On Sunday on Sky News: “There is scope to be much sharper in how we deal with extremism within this country.
“The law was never designed to deal with extremism, there’s a lot to do with terrorism and hate crime but we don’t have a body of law that deals with extremism, and that is creating a gap.”
Sir Mark said there has been a 14-fold increase in antisemitic incidents since the crisis started three weeks ago, and a three-fold increase in crimes against the Muslim community.
He said lawyers from the Crown Prosecution Service are working in the police operations room to help identify offences.
Nine people were arrested in central London during a mainly peaceful pro-Palestine demonstration on Saturday, which was attended by at least 100,000 people calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war.
Seven of those were alleged public order offences, a number of which were being treated as hate crimes, while two were for suspected assaults on officers.
Sir Mark said: “We’ve got these big protests and some of what goes on there, people do find it upsetting and distasteful and sometimes people give an instinctive view that must not be legal.
“But there’s no point arresting hundreds of people if it’s not prosecutable, that’s just inflaming things.
“We will robustly enforce up to the line of the law. We’re going to be absolutely ruthless and we have been and you’ll see many more arrests over the next week or so.”
Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove is understood to have ordered officials to draw up a new official definition of extremism in a move designed to counter hate, including antisemitism.
The Sunday Telegraph has reported officials in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities are examining a suggested new definition of hateful extremism.
The work is understood to have started before violence flared up again in the Middle East.
Separately, the Home Office is examining potential changes to terrorism legislation, The Sunday Telegraph reported.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities declined to comment on Sir Mark’s comments or the Sunday Telegraph report.
The Home Office has been approached for comment.