Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick at Downing Street on June 8
Britain’s most senior police officer today said it was ‘easy to sit an in armchair and criticise what you’re seeing on a video’ after violent clashes between the force and revellers at illegal raves over the past week.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick also said there will be more officers on the streets this weekend on ‘Super Saturday’ amid fears violence could flare when pubs reopen following a three-month coronavirus lockdown since March 20.
She added that the Met had ‘not gone soft’ and it was ‘absurd to suggest the streets have been lost’ following violent clashes between police and revellers in recent days, including at an illegal rave last Wednesday night in Brixton.
Dame Cressida also said the force had ‘extra resources in place’ in London and had been preparing for the reopening of bars ‘for some time’ as concerns rise over a wave of anti-social behaviour.
She was asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme about comments by former Met detective Peter Bleksley last week, who said: ‘Wednesday evening, Brixton, police in high-vis and flat caps. Thursday evening, Notting Hill, police in full public order kit. Inconsistent. Are senior officers making it up as they go along?’
Two people stamp on the windscreen of a police car during violence in Brixton last Wednesday
But Dame Cressida said today: ‘The thing about policing is, firstly, it’s quite easy to sit an in armchair and criticise what you’re seeing on a video.
‘Secondly, the officers on the ground make decisions according to what is presented to them, and things can change very fast.
‘You can’t predict exactly what a crowd is going to do. We always start, and must continue to start, with trying to speak to people, to engage with people, to persuade people.
‘As soon as violence is shown in that way towards our officers, we should get our officers kitted up, and that’s what we do.’
She added: ‘We have not gone soft. It is absurd to suggest the streets have been lost.’
Police in Brixton last Wednesday night after a illegal party turned into violence on the streets
London has seen tensions flare during recent Black Lives Matter protests and a series of unlicensed music events.
Last weekend the capital saw its fourth night of illegal raves, with officers forced to break up two large parties after Dame Cressida vowed to shut down events that flout health regulations.
After being asked about clashes with police relating to illegal parties, Dame Cressida said: ‘There are a lot of people in London and elsewhere who are missing going to music festivals and the like, and I understand that.
‘Unfortunately in London, and many other cities, unlicensed music events have historically been associated with violence and with gangs. We have every summer sought to stop them before they start.
‘That’s what we’re doing this year again, and if people come out on the streets with sound systems, the local people hate it, we will take away the sound system, use our powers if people do not disperse.
Police were called to break up an unlicensed music event in West Kilburn on Friday evening
‘That’s our job, and at the weekend we were doing that multiple times. I hope we’ve send a message that we will do that, we will continue to do it if we need to and we don’t want to see the disorder and violence that has been associated with these events.’
Police issued dispersal zone notices to force people to leave unlicensed music events at Clapham Common and Tooting Bec Common in South West London on Saturday.
But the crowd took several hours to leave, with the last partygoers leaving the scene around 3am on Sunday morning.
It follows a succession of lockdown parties and illegal raves last week in Brixton and Notting Hill when officers came under attack.
On Friday evening a party in Newham saw seven people arrested, including one for having a gun and the other for holding a ‘Rambo-style’ knife.
A lockdown party in Notting Hill, West London, last Friday also saw officers come under attack
Two other people were arrested for throwing a bar stool at an officer and racially abusing an officer.
Similarly, at an event in West Kilburn, five people were arrested, including two for attacking police officers.
Speaking about the reopening of pubs on Saturday, Dame Cressida said: ‘We’ve been continually changing our position and planning for the future, including of course for all the moments in which lockdown is eased.
‘Next Saturday is another day, we’ve been preparing for that for some time, we’re planning, we’ve got extra resources in place, we’re talking to people in every way we can think of, we’re absolutely prepared.
‘You’ll see a lot of police officers out on the street. There will be a lot more ready should people be out of order, should people get violent, but I’m not predicting that at this stage.
Police issued a dispersal zone notice to force people to leave Clapham Common on Saturday
‘I think we have seen over recent weeks, feelings have been running high in a number of areas for lots of reasons, coming out of lockdown, and of course the events after the death of George Floyd.
‘Lots of people are quiet cross about a lot of things, and we are seeing people out on the streets and not always observing social distancing.
‘So my message is, if you’re coming out on Saturday, be calm, be sensible, look after yourself, look after your family, we are still in a global pandemic which is affecting this country, and people need to be sensible.’
Last week in Liverpool, fans caused chaos when they descended on the city centre to celebrate the club’s Premier League victory on Friday.
A number of officers were injured while dispersing crowds after the Liver building caught fire during celebrations.
A dispersal zone was imposed at Tooting Bec Common in South West London on Saturday
Elsewhere, Northamptonshire Police said up to 50 people had been moved on following a planned operation to disrupt an illegal rave near Wellingborough on Saturday night.
On Sunday it emerged that drug barons may be paying DJs to organise illegal ‘festival-sized’ raves to drum up business for them.
The gangs have in effect set up marketplaces for class-A drugs by arranging mass gatherings in open countryside around the northwest of England.
Police chiefs warned last week that a ‘pressure cooker is building up’ which could erupt into violence this summer as lockdown ends.
Forces have begun cancelling leave and bolstering public order units in anticipation of widespread drunken disorder on so-called Super Saturday.
Privately, many police chiefs are furious at Boris Johnson’s decision to lift restrictions on a Saturday because they fear it will lead to a ‘carnival’ atmosphere as pubs reopen and people can finally reunite with friends and families.
A police officer is injured during scuffles with demonstrators outside Downing Street during a Black Lives Matter march in London on June 6 following the death of George Floyd in the US
George Floyd (left), a 46-year-old black man, died after white police officer Derek Chauvin (right) put his knee on his neck in Minneapolis on May 25 for nine minutes
John Apter, chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: ‘I am concerned that we have a pressure cooker building up, a perfect storm. This could just be the beginning.
‘It’s everything – people getting more and more frustrated at the lockdown, many young people do not think the pandemic is an issue for them.
‘Now many companies are going to start laying people off, which financially is going to be a real challenge for people.
‘Add to that what has happened overseas with George Floyd and we have seen protests spreading across the country.’
Mr Apter said police had requested a midweek date for the reopening – but their pleas were rejected by Downing Street.
‘In an ideal world I would have liked to see the reopening in the middle of a week, to stagger things a bit,’ he said. ‘I wish we could have had a little bit of support on that.’