Night Stars volunteers 'deliberately targeted by police' during coronation protest arrests, MPs told

Suzie Melvin told MPs officers had gone out specifically looking for those involved in the safe streets scheme. Credit: PA

Night Stars volunteers were deliberately targeted by police during anti-protest arrests over the coronation weekend, MPs have been told.

Volunteer Suzie Melvin told MPs that officers had gone out specifically looking for those involved in Nights Star which hands out rape alarms as part of anti-spiking kits.

Accusations of heavy-handedness and bowing to political pressure have been aimed at the Metropolitan Police over the force’s handling of the event, which saw a total of 62 arrests.

Among those arrested were volunteers from Westminster Council's safety scheme who were detained in the early hours of May 6 and not released until the late afternoon.

All three volunteers were released without charge.

Giving evidence on Wednesday to the Commons Home Affairs Committee, that has launched an urgent investigation into the arrests, Ms Melvin appeared to suggest the arrests could have been linked to the volunteers carrying rape alarms as part of an “anti-spiking kit” they hand out to people on a night out.

There had been reports in the lead-up to the ceremony at Westminster Abbey that demonstrators could set off rape alarms and throw them at horses involved in the coronation procession in an attempt to disrupt the event.

After being approached by police who wanted to stop and search the Night Stars volunteers during their patrol in Soho, Ms Melvin said she and colleagues showed them emails and leaflets from Westminster City Council and the Night Stars website.

Ms Melvin said they pointed to the high-visibility vests they were wearing which “do display the Met Police logo as well because we are in partnership with the Met”.

Ms Melvin said she gave the arresting officers the names of Met Police colleagues who she knew from volunteering in Soho but told MPs she did not think any contact was made to verify their identity and roles.

Six anti-monarchy protesters - including Republic chief executive Graham Smith - were arrested over the coronation weekend. Credit: PA

She told the committee: “We did the best that we could to try and explain who we were to the officers.

“Then they also searched the church we base ourselves out of.

“We were told we were going to be arrested.

“We were then taken in police vans to Walworth police station where we were held. I was interviewed at approximately 1pm the following day and were released a little bit after 4pm on Saturday May 6.”

Ms Melvin later told the cross-party panel of MPs: “I fully accept it was a challenging situation for the police.

“I was informed by the officer who arrested me that they were specifically looking for the Night Stars and they had been told where we were going to be.”

Despite carrying rape alarms, Ms Melvin said neither she nor one of her colleagues had ever handed such a device out to the public.

Protesters from Republic gathered in Trafalgar Square to rally against the monarchy. Credit: Sebastian Bozon/PA

Chairwoman Dame Diana Johnson said she was “a bit speechless” at details of what had happened.

Also giving evidence was Graham Smith, chief executive of anti-monarchy group Republic, who was detained for 16 hours on the day of the crowning of the King after officers deemed that straps in his organisation’s van could be used to “lock on” — a tactic used in recent years by some environmental protesters to tie themselves to a protest point.

He told the committee the group had been in contact with the Metropolitan Police for months before the coronation to agree details of its planned protest.

But on the morning of May 6 six supporters unloading placards were arrested on suspicion of planning to lock-on – a tactic used by protesters to make themselves harder to move.

The group were the first to be arrested under the new Public Order Act, that came into force days before the coronation, over their possession of luggage straps.

Mayor Sadiq Khan has demanded answers from London’s police chief following the arrest of protestors at the coronation, as well as the Night Stars volunteers.

In response, commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Sir Mark Rowley defended the police actions during the coronation, saying the force was "acting on evidence".

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