Assumptions about a pre-Coronation decision to arrest volunteers who help vulnerable people on the streets of London at night were shattered when it was claimed the stated reason was nonsense.
The Commons Home Affairs Committee took evidence on the arrests today (May 17, 2023) – including from ‘Night Stars’ volunteer Suzie Melvin, whose comments left chair Diana Johnson “speechless”.
The reason? It had been stated that the ‘Night Stars’ volunteers were arrested for handing out rape alarms which police said could be used to frighten horses in the Coronation Day parade.
There’s just one problem with that: the ‘Night Stars’ weren’t handing out rape alarms at all.
Here‘s the BBC report of what Ms Melvin said [boldings mine]:
She explains to the select committee the work volunteers do and the equipment they use – mostly items to help people struggling to get home during a night out, from sick bags to flip flops.
She describes the night as quiet, with the volunteering team mainly helping people by directing them to taxis in central London.
But as the team – wearing hi-vis jackets and backpacks – approached Soho Square they were told by officers they would need to be stopped and searched.
Melvin says officers looked through their bags. But despite explaining to officers who they were, they were arrested and taken to police custody – where she was held from Friday night until Saturday afternoon.
“I am speechless,” the chair of the committee Diana Johnson says after hearing Melvin’s testimony.
Melvin says that when she was arrested, the police officer told her they were specifically looking for the Night Stars volunteers.
Longhi asks if it could be because they were giving out rape alarms, “which can cause a sudden occurrence to happen amongst the horses that were parading” and a risk to the public.
“None of us have ever handed out a rape alarm,” says Melvin. “I am not sure why we were arrested and detained.”
Suzie Melvin from the Night Star volunteers is asked if she had any dialogue with the police beforehand about the new laws and what it might mean for her operations.
“Not directly no,” she says, “but I am aware that city council members did have a dialogue and were not made aware of any suggestion we might be involved in plans to disrupt the Coronation.”
I’ve seen no comment from police who gave evidence at the hearing on any reason for the ‘Night Stars’ arrest. The claim was that they’d had information suggesting the group’s members were handing out rape alarms for the purpose of disrupting the Coronation celebrations but that does not appear to have been substantiated by any police representative.
So was that their excuse or not? Or are they changing it? I have contacted the Metropolitan Police to seek clarification.
ADDITIONAL: The Met Police responded at 2.12pm as follows:
Three people were stopped by officers and arrested in the Soho area on suspicion of conspiracy to commit public nuisance. Among items seized were a number of rape alarms.
The three people – a 37-year-old woman, a 59-year-old woman and a 47-year-old man – were taken to a south London police station, where they were questioned. The 47-year-old man was also further arrested on suspicion of handling stolen goods.
All three have since been released with no further action.
So neither side is giving an inch, it seems.
I await with eager anticipation the report of the Home Affairs Committee – and any responses to it.
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