"We certainly don't see it as inevitable that we will witness a repeat of last year's scenes of violence and criminal damage. However, it would be negligent if we did not plan a response to the small minority who may be intent on disruption and may not intend to be peaceful... I have asked for authority to have them available to me."
The Met also released a statement yesterday saying that baton rounds are one of a "wide range of tactics" available for policing protests, that the officers trained in their use will not be involved in policing the march and
"This tactic requires pre-authority, and would take time to deploy, and is one of a range of tactics we have had available for public order, and not used, in the past."
Indeed, the Met could have used rubber bullets during the August riots but decided not to. It seems highly unlikely that the first time they'll be used on the British mainland would be on a group that will include students, schoolchildren and disabled protesters, which makes us wonder – why on earth is Commander Pountain getting them pre-authorised and mentioning them at all? It smells like before the G20 when officers described themselves as "up for it", and we ended up with a bystander dead after being smacked around, and peaceful camped protesters being hit with riot shields.
This kind of talk only ramps up tensions. We all know there are small, idiotic groups that like to get in and ruck with the police – saying, up front, that they're ready and willing to escalate their response only increases the likelihood of provocation. When we're talking about the anniversary of Millbank getting trashed, that's not clever. Add to that the fear of the young crowd, when stuck in the (surely inevitable) kettle, that they're going to be fired on because of all the news stories they've heard, and you again increase the likelihood that someone's going to panic.
Plastic baton rounds are not to be sniffed at – they can cause head injuries and were described to the BBC, by a professor of social policy at University of Wolverhampton, as "one of the least lethal weapons available". Least lethal. That's very different from not lethal. Talking up their possible use against a crowd of students is unhelpful at best, and at worst plain irresponsible.