MILITARY veterans yesterday condemned Scotland Yard’s failure to arrest protesters who ‘ desecrated’ a prominent war memorial.
The Metropolitan Police has come under fire yet again for its approach to pro-Palestinian marchers who clambered onto the Royal Artillery Memorial at Hyde Park Corner.
At one point a man straddled the 30ft monument and vigorously waved a Palestinian flag, cheered on by a crowd.
Police were already on the scene and remonstrated with another protester standing on the monument’s plinth.
His feet were inches from poppy wreaths laid on Remembrance Sunday.
When the flag-waver climbed down – stepping on a bronze statue of a fallen artilleryman – he was allowed to walk away by several officers.
The memorial, which is Grade I listed, commemorates 49,076 soldiers from the regiment killed in the First World War.
Met commissioner Sir Mark Rowley described the incident as ‘unfortunate’ but not illegal. He insisted his officers would have been acting illegally if they made arrests.
But Downing Street said it was an ‘affront’ which will appall the public. And veterans – incredulous at the police’s failure to act – scoffed at Sir Mark’s response. Kevin Muldoon, 67, from Glasgow, said: ‘Anyone climbing onto it should be arrested, simple as that. The police should be getting them off, not chatting with them. Use force, if they need to. I would use much stronger words than “unfortunate”. His officers should have stopped them from climbing it.’
Mr Muldoon, who served with the Royal Corps of Transport during an 18-year
‘An affront which will appall the public’
career, said: ‘It is a place held very dearly in people’s hearts. It is an important place that makes you reflect and remember. Then you’ve got people climbing all over it, which is completely disrespectful.’
Veterans’ affairs minister Johnny Mercer said: ‘The Met has a lot of powers they can use, and should be using, and I’ll work with colleagues to toughen the law. Let’s see those thugs dishonouring our war dead in handcuffs.’
Tory MP Neil O’Brien insisted the activists could have been arrested under existing laws. Describing the Met as ‘pathetic’, he wrote on X, formerly Twitter: ‘This is “disorderly behaviour” under Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 and they should have been arrested.
‘In 2016 Greenpeace protesters who just put an air pollution mask on the statue of Nelson were arrested on suspicion of causing criminal damage.’
Home Secretary James Cleverly said it was ‘desecrating behaviour’ and pledged to look at whether police need new powers. ‘These – and the police have said this – are deeply disrespectful actions,’ he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.
‘The war memorials recognise the sacrifice people have made for our freedom, and abusing, desecrating behaviour like this is deeply, deeply offensive. We are looking at what additional powers the police may need.’
Mr Cleverly, who was a Territorial Army officer in the Royal Artillery, added: ‘I’m not going to let my personal feelings cloud my judgment on this but it is clearly wrong, and the police have said that they recognise it is deeply disrespectful for people to climb on war memorials.’
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘It’s an affront to our Armed Forces, it goes against our British values, it’s not acceptable.We will look at what further measures are needed so that the police can have confidence in taking action on this. We do believe there are extensive powers available to them but the public will have been shocked and I’m sure appalled by what they saw.’
Sir Mark told an event at the Institute for Government in central London: ‘What the officers didn’t do last night is make up a law and make an arrest. That
would have been illegal. It is not illegal to climb onto a statue.
‘The officers recognised that while it wasn’t illegal, it was inflammatory in certain ways. The officers at the scene asked them to get down – and they did.
‘So the officers intervened, as officers are often doing, to try and de- escalate the risk of conflict which is the sensible thing to do.’
He said police bosses would speak with ministers about making changes in the law because ‘some practical provisions in the current public order powers don’t work very well’.
Chief Constable of Essex BJ Harrington, who leads the National Police Chiefs Council on protests, said: ‘There is no offence of jumping on a war memorial. There is a question have we got sufficient powers to deal with that scenario? Do we need additional powers to criminalise the single act of jumping on a memorial? That is a question for Parliament to consider.’
The Met has come under criticism for its handling of pro-Palestinian demonstrations following the October 7 massacre in Israel.
Former home secretary Suella Braverman, who described the events as ‘hate marches’, accused police leaders of adopting a ‘double standard’ and ‘playing favourites’ with protesters. She said that while some right-wing troublemakers received a ‘stern response’ from police, ‘pro-Palestinian mobs displaying almost identical behaviour are largely ignored, even when clearly breaking the law’. It triggered her sacking from Cabinet by Rishi Sunak on Monday.
Richard Gill, 43, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan during a 15year military career, said: ‘Suella Braverman said there was a problem with two-tier policing, and she lost her job. To the casual observer,
it looks like she’s got a point, doesn’t it?’
The incident last night was caught on video by onlookers and posted to social media.
Clips show a demonstrator straddling the centrepiece of the 98year- old memorial – a howitzer carved from Portland stone.
As he climbs down, assisted by another masked and hooded man, both tread upon a bronze statue of a dead soldier at the north face of the monument.
Another clip shows a ‘Freedom for Palestine’ placard which had been placed in the centre of a display of poppy wreaths.
Historic England says the Royal Artillery Memorial, by sculptor Charles Sargeant Jagger, is ‘widely regarded as one of the truly outstanding memorials of the First World War anywhere’.
The Met said protesters who climbed on the monument were a breakaway group who had dispersed from the main group at Hyde Park Corner. ‘While officers were on scene quickly, we regret they were not there quickly enough to prevent the protesters accessing the memorial,’ a spokesman said.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the protesters’ actions were ‘not the behaviour of decent citizens’.
Yesterday, a protest was mounted in Parliament Square to coincide with a Commons vote calling for a ceasefire, in which 56 Labour MPs rebelled against the position of leader Sir Keir Starmer. Police guarded the Cenotaph, where 92 far-right counter-protesters were arrested on Armistice Day.
ERECTED to comfort grieving families, Britain’s war memorials signal the nation’s determination to honour those who made the supreme sacrifice for our freedom.
So how sickeningly disrespectful for a seething pro-Palestinian mob to desecrate the Royal Artillery Memorial in Hyde Park on Wednesday by clambering all over it.
Was it really possible these flag-waving thugs did not realise the profound offence they would cause? Unlikely. Remembrance Sunday was only three days earlier. Poppy wreaths still lay at the plinth’s base.
The protesters couldn’t fail to know how important such memorials are to this country – and exactly what they stand for.
This act was almost certainly deliberately provocative. Indeed, it has been depressingly apparent recently that parts of the population detest Britain’s values.
Equally disgraceful was the police response. Instead of tackling those on the memorial, Met officers looked on supinely.
Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley had the temerity to suggest arresting the yobs would itself have been illegal. But would the police reaction have been so lame if white football fans holding Union flags had scrambled over such a sacred monument?
Rishi Sunak caved in to synthetic outrage and sacked Suella Braverman as home secretary for saying the police ‘ play favourites’. Here is evidence she was right.
If the police genuinely need new powers to protect war memorials, ministers ought to strongly consider enacting them.
But first, they should remind chief constables not to pick sides with demonstrators – and to enforce the extensive laws that already exist.