UK police ‘regret’ coronation day protests amid rights concerns

The leader of an anti-monarchist group and five other activists were arrested as Charles III was preparing to be officially crowned.

A protester holds up a placard reading 'Not My King' in Trafalgar Square in central London
A protester holds up a placard reading 'Not My King' in Trafalgar Square, close to where King Charles III and Camilla, queen consort, were crowned at Westminster Abbey in central London [File: Sebastien Bozon/AP Photo]

British police have expressed regret over the arrests of the leader of an anti-monarchist group and five others at the coronation of King Charles, following criticism that the security response was heavy-handed.

London’s Met Police said they were sorry that six of those arrested at the event were prevented from protesting during the coronation on Saturday. They have had their bail cancelled and no further action will be taken, the police statement added.

“We regret that those six people arrested were unable to join the wider group of protesters in Trafalgar Square and elsewhere on the procession route,” said the statement issued late on Monday.

Police had claimed the arrests were made because officers found “lock-on” items – devices protesters use to lock themselves in position tactically so that police find it hard to remove them. But in their statement, police said they were unable to prove the protesters intended to use the items to lock themselves to positions on the coronation route.

The chief executive of the pressure group Republic, Graham Smith, who was one of the six protesters arrested, said on Twitter that police had apologised to him in person on Monday but he planned to talk to lawyers about taking legal action.

Republic said the items in question were intended for securing placards.

One man was also arrested for possession of a knife.

There were more than 11,000 police on the streets of central London for the coronation, the biggest ceremonial event staged in London for 70 years, and a total of 64 arrests were made.

While thousands lined the streets in London to celebrate the historic event, those protesting against the monarchy gathered near the Charles I statue in Trafalgar Square in the English for a “Not my King” rally. Similar demonstrations also took place in Glasgow in Scotland and Cardiff in Wales.

The civil rights group Liberty tweeted on Tuesday: “This embarrassing episode for the Met demonstrates the dangers of handing broad and poorly-defined powers to the police – who we know by now are all too happy to use and abuse those powers.”

Republic said in a statement: “Our message is simple. Instead of a coronation we want an election, instead of Charles we want a choice.”

After Smith’s arrest, Republic tweeted: “Hundreds of placards were seized. Is this democracy?”

Buckingham Palace has yet to comment on the arrests.

On Saturday, royal biographer Christopher Wilson said King Charles III has seen protests throughout his life.

“He, I think, is a true democrat who believes in freedom of speech,” Wilson told Al Jazeera.

“The Republic movement is not in any way a terrorist movement. It’s simply a voice of protest and they have a right to free speech. After all, Britain is supposed to be the cradle of democracy. Free speech has one of the great tenets of our life,” Wilson said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies