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Graham Wettonne, who spent 30 years in the Metropolitan Police Force including the public order branch, said that there was a lack of joined up thinking and a confused message in the early stages of the pandemic.
Mr Wettone, whose book takes the reader “from those first thoughts about joining through to the training itself and to the real work involved in policing”, was speaking to former Tory cabinet minister and GMTV host Esther McVey in her latest Blue Collar Conservative Conversation.
His comments come after criticism of the police for being too heavy handed in enforcing the lockdown including times when drones and road blocks were used.
Mr Wettone said: “I thought it was confusing. The advice and guidance from the government was unhelpful and the public tended to listen to the guidelines and the press briefings from Downing Street.
“That didn’t match the regulations or the laws, offences the police could actually enforce.
“People were ringing up the police for not keeping 2 metres etc, going out for longer than an hour.
“They were guidelines, not part of the regulations as such. So the police were having to come out to deal with stuff that they can’t enforce and then say to someone ‘well actually we can’t enforce that, thanks for ringing us.’
“That erodes trust and confidence because people responded ‘well I heard the health secretary and the prime minister saying you can’t do this.’”
However, he added: “It was very challenging and difficult but there needed to be more of a joined up approach from government and police chiefs. I thought the police service largely got it absolutely spot on.”
Mr Wettone, a former sergeant in the Met, was also critical of the handling of the black lives matter protests which descended into violence.
He suggested that the tactic of liaising with protest groups had failed and the police service was not being intelligence led any more.
He said: “I don’t know why [statues] weren’t identified as potential targets I have no idea. For me that was almost the first paragraph in every intelligence report.
“The Cenotaph I have always been told is one of the most vulnerable points, as was Churchill. My understanding is that Westminster Council and the GLA have responsibility overall which is why you saw Churchill boarded up and the cenotaph. Maybe there was a breakdown in communications.
“Why they didn’t have a police unit ready to protect them?”
He claimed that the outbreak of violence by rightwing thugs was a direct consequence of a failure to properly enforce the law the week before.
“It was no surprise to me the lack of action in the first weekend was key to what happened last Saturday. Other groups turn up, maybe not to just protect the statues and the monuments but then to use it to become involved in violence and disorder. It’s almost like cause and effect.”
And he warned against the police becoming political with actions like taking the knee.
“You have officers at a public order event who are being required by the crowd and been shouted at by people do this for us. I wouldn’t take the knee. You police by public consent not at the public’s behest. We don’t want robots as police officers.
“They are politicising the police which I think is wrong.”
Ms McVey also interviewed former police inspector Kash Singh who has founded the One Nation One Britain group to bring people together.
Mr Singh, who also served in the police for 30 years, was credited with giving David Cameron the slogan, “we’re all in this together.”
He said: “In my days in the police there was a motto: we have got to be firm, positive but not provocative.
“When it gets to violence, throwing bricks, bike bottles etc that is the time we need to send a firm positive message that that will not be accepted.
“Sadly I did not see that. It was a weakness and people were laughing at the police service.”
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Meanwhile, John Apter, national chairman of the Police Federation, also warned against police being dragged into political acts.
He told Ms McVey: “I think we have been dragged into giving a view. There has got to be a clear distinction between the operational side of policing and giving our views. Policing must never be political.”
He also raised concerns about the subsequent attacks on officers in Hackney which were filmed by onlookers for entertainment.
He said: “We have seen an ever increasing trend where members of the public will get out their phones and video.
“People videoing violent encounters for entertainment and these individuals are laughing and encouraging others to get involved then posting them on social media for entertainment. This is vile and disgusting. The law needs to adapt to recognise that.”
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