Pro-Palestine demos putting other police priorities at risk, MPs warn

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Pro-Palestine demos putting other police priorities at risk, MPs warn

Parliament's Home Affairs Select Committee say they are 'deeply concerned' at the rise in hate crime in this country following the Hamas terror attack in Israel

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

People take part in a Palestine Solidarity Campaign demonstration near the Israeli Embassy, in Kensingston.
People take part in a Palestine Solidarity Campaign demonstration near the Israeli Embassy, in Kensingston.

The frequency and scale of pro-Palestine protests in this country has placed severe pressure on police forces and is putting their ability to deal with wider policing priorities at risk, parliament’s Home Affairs Committee has warned.

The cross-party committee of MPs said that estimates of policing costs between October 7th and December 6, where 900 demos took place, was an estimated £18.9 million for London alone.

They called for police forces, particularly in London, to be given greater support, with a comprehensive workforce plan put in place to identify and respond to demand on resources nationwide.

The influential committee concluded that if protests continue to take place frequently at this scale, the Home Office should consider requiring protest organisers to give more notice than the current six days to enable forces to prepare better.

Meanwhile, the Committee say they are “deeply concerned” by the rise in hate crime in this country following the Hamas terror attack in Israel and the response against the terror group in Gaza.

Dave Rich

They point to the fact that the government’s hate crime action plan expired in 2020 and has not yet been updated.

Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, Dame Diana Johnson noted that the “hard-won right to protest is a vital part of our democratic process and must be protected.”

But the Labour MP added:”It is clear that the current demands on policing resourcing and the level of complexity in policing protests are unsustainable without proper reinforcement.

“It is vital that the right framework is in place to ensure that protests can continue without the burden on policing becoming intolerable and without regularly taking resources away from communities that have their own local crime-fighting challenges.

“Alongside laws that strike the right balance on the lawful parameters of protest, policing needs the strategic planning to cope with demands placed upon it. ”

Diana Johnson MP, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee

But Johnson said the committee had concluded that “urgent action needs to be taken to set out the Government’s strategy for dealing with hate crime. ”

The MP said:”We need to see much more action from the Home Office, both in how it reacts to the constructive advice it receives and how it develops strategy. ”

“At a time when some communities in the UK feel highly vulnerable, and community cohesion is under strain, the hate crime strategy is several years out of date with little sign of action. This needs to change now.”

Taking evidence the committee had heard from communal representatives including the Community Security Trust and the Campaign Against Antisemitism.

Representatives from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign had also spoken, while policing representatives told the committee that the wellbeing officers was being put at risk, with over 4,000 rest days cancelled in a 3-month period to ensure protests could be policed safely.

In the context of the policing of the Israel-Gaza protests, as well as the policing of the King’s Coronation protests, it was decided that police forces have generally maintained the balance between the right to protest with the right of others to go about their lives without disruption, although individual incidents inevitably tested that balance.

However, it was too early to assess whether new powers provided to police in the Public Order Act 2023 to deal with disruptive
protests are effective. The Committee calls for post-legislative scrutiny to accurately assess their impact.

While the right to protest must be respected, no one, including elected representatives, their families and their staff, should be made to feel unsafe by protest activity outside their home and no one should be intimidated when they are coming and going from their place of work, the committee said.

In a democratic society, elected representatives must be able to do their job in accordance with the conscience and free from intimidation.

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