Pro-Palestinian protesters clambering over a First World War statue were “deeply distasteful”, James Cleverly said as he offered police new powers to protect war memorials.
The protesters climbed on the Royal Artillery Memorial at Hyde Park Corner on Wednesday evening after a demonstration outside the Houses of Parliament.
A video of the protesters climbing over the statues while carrying Palestinian flags was shared online by Johnny Mercer, the veterans minister, who noted that it was the only memorial to fallen soldiers in central London.
The Home Secretary, a former soldier who served in the Royal Artillery, said the behaviour of the protesters was “clearly wrong” even though police said no laws had been broken so took no action.
Mr Cleverly, who said he would not let his personal feelings as a former serviceman cloud his judgment, told LBC he would “look at this in real depth” to see if “police need more powers to make sure deeply distasteful and provocative things like this don’t happen”.
“It’s clearly wrong. It’s deeply disrespectful for people to climb on war memorials,” he added. “It is about making sure that it doesn’t stimulate violent action or a violent response.
There is only one memorial of fallen soldiers in London.
This is it. I will not stand idly by whilst individuals think this is the correct way to treat these memorials. https://t.co/LQJrZxWvhq
— Rt Hon Johnny Mercer (@JohnnyMercerUK) November 15, 2023
“If we need to take action to give police more powers, we are looking at doing that. I will be speaking later to members of the National Police Chiefs’ Council. We will make sure they have the powers to do the right thing.”
Police said the protesters who climbed on the memorial were a breakaway group who had been dispersed at Hyde Park Corner.
“Most people would agree that to climb on or otherwise disrespect a war memorial is unacceptable,” the statement said. “That is why our officers have made every effort to prevent it happening in recent days.
“While officers were on scene quickly, we regret they were not there quickly enough to prevent the protesters accessing the memorial.”
The statement added: “We know some online have asked why the protesters were not arrested.
“There is no law explicitly making it illegal to climb on a memorial so officers cannot automatically arrest, but they can intervene and make it clear the behaviour isn’t acceptable. The videos shared online show them doing that.”
Posting the video on X, formerly known as Twitter, Mr Mercer said: “There is only one memorial of fallen soldiers in London. This is it. I will not stand idly by whilst individuals think this is the correct way to treat these memorials.”
The Twitter/X user who posted the original video said: “Protesters climbing all over the Royal Artillery Memorial – the police make zero arrests. The level of disrespect is incredible. Look at where they climb on to at the end. I feel sad for my country. This needs to stop now. Police do nothing.”
A dispersal order was in place across parts of the City of Westminster from 7.50pm on Wednesday to 2am on Thursday.
Police said one arrest had been made at the protest for possession of an offensive weapon.