Home secretary Theresa May has refused authorisation for the Metropolitan police to use the three water cannon it owns.
In a statement at Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) today, May said that water cannon are classed as ‘less lethal technology’. She also expressed concerns over the age of the units, medical implications and evidence from police officers involved in trials, before saying she would not authorise their use.
In 2014, despite previously opposing their use, and the London Assembly’s vote against them, Mayor Boris Johnson gave the Met the go ahead to buy three second-hand water cannon from German police at a cost of £218,000 in a pre-emptive bid to head off public disorder such as that seen during the 2011 London riots. In fact, the Met’s own report stated that water cannon would have been unlikely to be used during the riots.
Somewhat embarrassingly for Boris Johnson, May pointed out that the water cannon have 67 faults which would prevent their use. The mayor has declined to sell them, saying the police will continue to be trained on using the cannon. It remains to be seen what Johnson’s successor will do with the units, which are apparently in storage in a secret location.
May declined to make a decision on their use in the run-up to the general election, but both Boris Johnson and deputy mayor for policing and crime Stephen Greenhalgh forged ahead, despite their use being illegal at the time. Johnson also offered to allow himself to be hosed down by one, prompting this slightly addictive game.
London Assembly Labour policing spokesperson Joanne McCartney welcomed the decision:
“I welcome that the Home Secretary has seen sense and decided to block the use of water cannon in London. Water cannon are dangerous and bluntly indiscriminate weapons which have no place on the streets of our capital city.
“As the Home Affairs Select Committee concluded after the 2011 riots, what London needs is more police officers on the streets, not water cannon which would have only inflamed the situation.”
Looks like the mayor will have to find a new use for them.