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Home Office officials believed it impossible for police to use new Public Order powers

Senior Home Office officials initially believed that it was impossible for the Metropolitan Police Service to use sweeping new powers unveiled last week to arrest protesters during the coronation, i can reveal.

i was told that the Home Secretary and other senior Government officials did not believe that the police could use controversial measures announced in the Public Order Act last week to crack down on demonstrators ahead of the King’s coronation.

Officials believed the new powers would require a bedding-in period for police to be trained in how to use them, and that there was no way they could be fully enforceable in time for the royal event.

However, i has since been told that Government later realised its assumptions were wrong after it emerged that six protesters from the Republic campaign group were arrested using new “lock on” laws that were rushed into effect last week.

It follows days of confusion over the policing of the coronation, with the Met Police only disclosing last night that it had used the controversial new laws to pre-emptively arrest protests before they had caused any disruption.

The force was forced into an embarrassing climbdown after initially saying that people were arrested during the coronation on Saturday for a range of offences including “conspiracy to cause a public nuisance” – but none of the new offences rushed into law last week as part of fresh anti-protest legislation.

In a lengthy statement, the Met expressed “regret” that officers had arrested the six Republican protesters for possession of “lock-on devices” – items that could be used to attach themselves to objects, buildings and other protesters – and were therefore prevented from joining a peaceful protest.

The force said that during a vehicle search on the morning of the coronation, officers found placards and items “they had reasonable grounds to believe could be used as lock-on devices”.

However, it admitted last night that there was no evidence the protesters were planning to lock themselves onto objects and that “all six have had their bail cancelled and no further action will be taken”.

Graham Smith, the head of Republic and one of those who was arrested, told i that the so-called “lock-on” devices were actually luggage straps used to hold together bundles of placards that were due to be distributed to anti-monarchy protesters.

The Met has come under heavy criticism for its policing of the event, with Human Rights Watch describing their action as “something you would expect to see in Moscow not London”.

Critics said it showed that new measures announced in the Public Order Act last week were too punitive and infringed on the right to protest.

Labour suggested this morning that it would “rectify” parts of the legislation if the party enters No 10. Lisa Nandy, the Shadow Levelling Up Secretary, said that “clearly, something has gone wrong in this case”, as she warned that the legislation was so “widely drawn” it could have an adverse effect on “innocent people” trying to protest.

“We opposed the Public Order Act when it went through Parliament a few weeks ago and one of the specific concerns that we raised was about this particular part of the legislation about locking on,” she told BBC Breakfast.

But Sir Mark Rowley, the Met Police chief, hit back at the claims this afternoon, saying that the threat to the coronation was so “concerning” that Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, and Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, were given late-night police briefings just 12 hours before the event.

In an op-ed in the Evening Standard, he said the force became concerned on Friday evening about “a rapidly developing intelligence picture suggesting the coronation could suffer”, including protesters’ plans to use rape alarms to disturb the coronation procession and white paint to deface monuments.

Sir Mark also defended the policing of the coronation, describing the occasion as “one of the most significant events the Met has ever policed”. He challenged the assertion that there had been a “protest ban” at the coronation, arguing such a description was “simply not accurate”.

It comes after Rishi Sunak said last night that he was “grateful” for the Met’s handling of policing at the coronation.

The Prime Minister said: “The police are operationally independent of Government; they’ll make these decisions based on what they think is best.

“Actually I’m grateful to the police and everyone who played a part in ensuring that this weekend has gone so well, so successfully and so safely.”

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