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Theresa May overrules Met Police and Boris Johnson over water cannon use

Published 15/07/2015

Water cannon is used on Loyalist protesters on the Crumlin Road, Belfast
Water cannon is used on Loyalist protesters on the Crumlin Road, Belfast

Water cannon purchased second hand from Germany will not be used on the streets of London, Theresa May has told MPs citing medical, operational and trust in the police as her reasons.

The Home Secretary said after deliberating on the issue for months and receiving evidence from the police and independent bodies, she would not authorise the Wasserwerfer 9000 water cannon for police use in England and Wales.

Scotland Yard bought three second hand water cannon from German police last year at a cost of more than £200,000.

The move was endorsed by London mayor Boris Johnson, even though they cannot be deployed without authorisation from the Home Office.

Mrs May told MPs: "This country has a proud history of policing by consent and this is a decision which goes to its very heart. Since I became Home Secretary, I have been determined to give the police the powers and tools they need to cut crime and tackle disorder on our streets.

"I have extended police discretion over areas such as police-led prosecutions. I have consistently made the case for legislation on communications data to ensure that technology does not outpace the ability of the intelligence agencies and law enforcement to keep us safe.

"And I have cut central targets and bureaucracy to save officer time and ensure the police focus relentlessly on what they are trained to do: cut crime.

"But where the medical and scientific evidence suggests those powers could cause serious harm, where the operational case is not clear, and where the historic principle of policing by consent could be placed at risk, I will not give my agreement.

"The application for the authorisation of the Wasserwerfer 9000 water cannon does not meet this high threshold."

Mrs May told MPs the formal application had come from Chief Constable David Shaw in March 2014, who was seeking authorisation to bring the water cannon into service for the streets in England and Wales.

It did not extend to Northern Ireland, where water cannon are already authorised, or Scotland, where policing is devolved.

She said water cannon are categorised in the same "less lethal system and technology" group as baton rounds and tasers.

The Home Secretary told MPs the "assessment process is comprehensive" and "involved a full independent review of the medical implications of water cannon".

She said medical evidence indicated a series of direct and indirect medical risks from their use, including spinal fractures, eye injury and blunt trauma.

Operational advice from police forces indicated limitations in the useful of water cannon in the field, adding they could attract crowds to a vulnerable location.

And Mrs May said in "areas with a history of social unrest or mistrust of the police", water cannon could be "entirely counter productive".

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