Peterborough police chief praises officers' response to Town Hall protest after calls for arrests
Peterborough's police chief has praised the actions of his officers during a protest at the Town Hall on Wednesday which led to the postponement of a city council meeting.
Superintendent Andy Gipp said the officers were right not to arrest the protesters despite calls to do so by former council leader and mayor Cllr John Peach.
The protesters were demanding the resignation of Cllr Andy Coles, the former Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner for Cambridgeshire, who resigned from that role following the screening of a Channel 4 investigation which claimed he had a relationship with a young activist while working as an undercover officer.
The Channel 4 programme screened on May 12 centred on an investigation into the activities of undercover police officers in the 1990s who infiltrated a group of animal rights activists. The programme interviewed a woman who is taking legal action against Met Police and her allegations against Cllr Coles.
Supt Gipp said: “Officers have a range of powers - they have to use them fairly and proportionately.
“Having spoken with them on the night and the morning after, and with the chief executive of the council, they performed in my opinion an exceptional job.
“They acted exactly as I would have wanted them to do, balancing the rights of the individuals protesting against the necessity of completing an ongoing meeting.
“We will obviously plan for the future, working very closely with the council to allow public meetings to continue moving forward without being disrupted to the degree that it prevents the council doing its business.”
Cllr Peach had asked for arrests due to public order offences, but Supt Gipp said this would only be for serious disruption, threats, abusive behaviour, damage or assault.
He added: “The protesters displayed an awareness of legislation and what they could and could not do.
“If this were to become the norm rather than just a one off where a meeting had to be postponed, the severity would start to escalate and police would respond appropriately.”
A Peterborough City Council spokeswoman said: “The decision to postpone the meeting of Full Council until next Wednesday (July 26) was not one that we took lightly.
“It was imperative that we balanced the rights of people to protest with our obligation to make sure all members of the public, councillors and staff are safe, to ensure that the democratic procedures of the council can continue.
“This is what we must achieve for next week’s meeting and we are in the process of exploring ways that this can happen, in consultation with the police.
“We will provide residents with an update as soon as we have a clear way forward.”