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Police right to stop 'openly Jewish' anti-semitism campaigner walking into pro-Palestinian march

Rishi Sunak's ‘shock and anger’ over clumsy comments by a police sergeant about an anti-semitism campaigner added to a hysterical over-reaction to common-sense policing.

This is the topic of my latest Scotsman column, published today (30th April 2024).

It seems that hardly a day goes by without someone calling for the sacking of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. Whether over some historic wrong or a storm in a teacup magnified by social media or malign actors, it doesn’t appear to matter. There seems little cool-headed judgment before the shrill cries begin. It’s taken its toll – none of the recent Met Commissioners have left their post at the time of their choosing, and only one of Police Scotland’s Chief Constables has left by the front door.

Little wonder there are pitifully few applicants for the top jobs in policing. It’s perhaps time for more mature reflection before we rush to judgment, and the latest storm to break over Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley provides us with an excellent case study.

The latest ‘scandal’ arose from a frank conversation between a police sergeant and an activist intent on disrupting a rival demonstration by exercising his right to walk through the ongoing procession. Watching the carefully filmed encounter, it seemed like a contrived set-up to seek confrontation. The sergeant was firm but well-mannered, telling the activist group’s leader that cutting across the rival pro-Palestinian procession was likely to cause a disturbance, especially since some of the activist group were “obviously Jewish” from their headwear.

Charged atmosphere

In order to resolve the impasse, the sergeant offered to facilitate passage for the activists by a non-confrontational route, but this was declined. So far, so normal, but on the release of an edited version of the encounter on social media, all hell broke loose.

The phrase “openly Jewish” was undoubtedly clumsy but take it from me, things do tend to get a little clumsy in the charged atmosphere of a confrontational public order situation, I’ve heard worse. In the real world, such things happen.

But, remarkably, the incident brought a hysterical reaction from unexpected quarters. One House of Lords member described the incident as “absolutely horrific”, while the Prime Minister said he shared “the shock and anger”. Is this really what these leaders of our country thought? If their comments were merely virtue-signalling, shame on them. If they really thought the incident was “horrific”, it says little for their life experience.

Thankfully the Met Commissioner quickly praised the sergeant’s common sense saying he acted “in the best traditions of British policing, trying to prevent disorder”. Hear hear, thank goodness for common sense.

Real-world experience required

No one in the police service enjoys supervising marches and demonstrations. Most go off peacefully enough but they are, at best, a huge distraction from the real job of policing. Our civil liberties do not come cheap either. Since the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, the Metropolitan Police alone have spent more than £32 million on supervising pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli demonstrations. The opportunity cost of this is enormous and as always the ordinary folk of London foot the bill.

The training of our police can always be improved but so can the real-world appreciation of our political leaders. As we approach a new phase of elections we should perhaps look beyond the rosettes, and ask what real-world experience our politicians bring to their most important roles.

My article is also available on the Scotsman's website here.

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