Theresa May withholds decision over use of water cannon by Met police

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The home secretary is withholding a decision on whether Britain’s biggest police force can use water cannon until after the election, it has emerged.

Boris Johnson, the London mayor, and the commissioner of the Metropolitan police, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, have been waiting for approval from Theresa May to use the equipment for many months.

But on Wednesday a government source revealed that no decision would now be made until after the general election in May.

The development could mean the three water cannon purchased by Johnson for £218,205 might never be used if the incoming government fails to grant approval.

The mayor’s office for policing and crime bought the secondhand water cannon from Germany last summer and the machines have been undergoing a refit by by specialists from the Metropolitan police.

Hogan-Howe has said he wanted water cannon as an option in case of mass disorder such as that which took place in August 2011.

Jenny Jones, Green party member of the London assembly, said: “I am delighted that the home secretary has seen sense and will not be approving water cannon.

“The mayor’s decision to buy these weapons in advance of the home secretary’s approval was rash and arrogant, and a waste of public money … Water cannon is an indiscriminate military weapon that has no place on our streets.”

The deputy mayor for policing, Stephen Greenhalgh, had told a parliamentary committee in January that he expected a decision by the home secretary on water cannon would be made before the election purdah period began in March. He said he expected the decision by the end of January.

“I met the home secretary about this very recently. We had the conversation with her just before the Christmas break. She made it absolutely clear that she will be in a position to make a decision before the purdah period - 20 March.”

Joanne McCartney, a Labour member on the London assembly, said the refusal by May to grant approval for water cannon before the general election showed Johnson “is the only one who thinks this ill judged proposal is a good idea”.

A spokeswoman for the Metropolitan police said she had no information on the development.

A spokesperson for the mayor’s office for policing and crime said: “Independent polling shows that the majority of Londoners support the police having water cannon at their disposal for use in exceptional circumstances. The mayor has made his position clear and awaits the home secretary’s licensing decision.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Sandra Laville, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 11th March 2015 12.52 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010