Belfast Telegraph

Days after they were deployed here, May rules out using water cannon in Britain

By David Young

Home Secretary Theresa May has ruled out the use of water cannon in England and Wales despite them being used on the streets of Northern Ireland for decades.

Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday, Mrs May cited technical, medical and operational grounds for her refusal.

Despite her decision, it's understood there are no plans to ban the use of water cannon in Northern Ireland.

Water cannon was used to quell loyalist rioting at Woodvale on Monday night.

London Mayor Boris Johnson said he "failed to see the physiological difference between people of England and people in Northern Ireland".

Mrs May had sought the opinions of chief constables on the use of water cannon, including the PSNI.

Alistair Finlay, temporary Deputy Chief Constable of the PSNI, had told her: "In our experience water cannons enhance the tactical options available to police and are best utilised in support of, and supported by, other tactical options, such as protected officers and attenuating energy projectiles."

In yesterday's decision she explicitly rejected the PSNI's view.

"I am acutely conscious of the potential impact of water cannon on public perceptions of police legitimacy.

"As a number of chief constables argued, in areas with a history of social unrest or mistrust of the police, the deployment of water cannon has the potential to be entirely counter-productive," she said.

In a statement, a spokesman for the Department of Justice said: "In Northern Ireland water cannon are only used where there is risk of injury to police officers or members of the public as a result of street disorder.

"Warnings are issued to rioters before they are deployed and there has been no evidence of serious injury caused."

East Belfast DUP MP Gavin Robinson warned the Government to be careful not to place "excessive constraints" on Chief Constables,

"With lethal force quite rightly very tightly regulated, the Home Secretary has removed another non-lethal weapon from the armoury of the police in England and Wales," the MP said.

Story so far

Last year Scotland Yard bought three elderly German water cannon vehicles at a cost of more than £200,000.

Yesterday Home Secretary Theresa May denied the Met's request for permission to use them on the streets of England or Wales - despite water cannon being in regular use in Northern Ireland. Boris Johnson had offered to be blasted by their jets to prove they were safe.

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