The Metropolitan Police’s case for using water cannon is flawed because examples given of the type of disorder it could be used “appear contradictory”, the London Assembly has said.
Assembly members said the list of times where cannon could have been deployed – including the Countryside Alliance march in 2004, the Gaza demonstrations outside the Israeli Embassy in 2008/9 and the student protests in Millbank in 2010.
It also said there was confusion over whether water cannon would have been practical during the 2011 riots.
In its report, the assembly’s Police and Crime Committee said: “At a recent public engagement event, the Met said it had identified one or two instances a year when water cannon may have been a suitable tactic, significantly more than the three examples in the Association of Chief Police Officers’ briefing.
“We are concerned that some of the examples that the Met has given conflict with its assurances about how water cannon would be used.
“At the public engagement event, the Met introduced other examples of events when they felt that the scale of disorder was such that water cannon may have been a justified tactic: the carnival against capitalism in 1999; in Tottenham during the disorder of August 2011 and to tackle disorder between fans at a Millwall v Birmingham football match.”
But the committee said evidence from senior officers and Mayor Boris Johnson contradicted this.
Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley told the committee “you would never see (water cannon) at a peaceful protest”, even if some within it were causing disorder.
Mr Johnson also said that water cannon would not have been appropriate during the 2011 disorder.
He told the committee: “Suppose we were to re-run (the disorder). We would not be talking about water cannon.
“We would be talking about more assertive policing. Let us be absolutely clear about that… the answer to that feeling (of helplessness) is not just to equip the police with greater weaponry or greater firepower in the form of water cannon.”
The committee’s report has said there is “no convincing argument” for water cannon.
It concluded: “The Met is pressing ahead for an ‘interim solution’ without clear justification for its urgency. In doing so, it is preventing and avoiding a full and proper national public debate about water cannon.”
The Met declined to comment on the report.
Stephen Greenhalgh, the deputy mayor for policing, has defended the usefulness of water cannon.
Writing in The Guardian on February 26, he said: “The strict criteria for use could not be clearer. The police will only be able to use them in those situations where there is a significant risk of widespread destruction of property or the loss of life.
“A water cannon is neither a toy for the cops to bring out as a show of strength nor a tool to deploy at normal protest or public events.
“The Met polices over 1,500 public order events every year, with the vast majority passing off peacefully. However, if and when legitimate protest is hijacked and turns into violent disorder, the public rightly expect the police to have the necessary tools to restore order and safeguard life.”