Some Notes on the Metropolian Police, the Mail on Sunday and a Coronation “Rape-Alarm Plot”

From the Mail on Sunday, 22 April:

Militant protesters are plotting to sabotage the Coronation by throwing rape alarms at horses in the procession, senior security sources have told The Mail on Sunday.

Concerns have been raised at the highest level of Government that the stunt could lead to serious injuries or even deaths if spooked horses bolt into the crowds lining the route.

Organisers fear that Just Stop Oil eco-activists will join forces with other groups to orchestrate a mass disruption of the May 6 event.

…Security sources did not specify which group or groups were behind the plan, but said police and other security officials ‘planned to take a robust response with protesters who attempt to disrupt proceedings’.

…Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle condemned the rape alarm plot, saying: ‘Mindless behaviour of this sort would be utterly and totally unacceptable on any day.

…former Cabinet Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg said: ‘This is not legitimate protest – this is hooliganism with a veneer of protest.’

This was a few days after a Just Stop Oil activist had disrupted the World Snooker Championship (“well these are terrible, terrible scenes here at the Crucible” – BBC Sport), and a fortnight after Animal Rebellion (aka Animal Rising) had been foiled in an attempt to prevent the Grand National horse race (1). It was therefore reasonable to assume that the two groups, and others similar to it, might seek to disrupt the Coronation procession if they thought the attempt feasible.

However, this particular story failed to convince. First, if such a plot existed, would “security sources” really want the group involved to know that they were under surveillance or had been infilitrated two weeks in advance? They were not named, but they surely would have recognised themselves. Second, a plot that would involve distress and possible injury to animals seems at odds with environmental groups’ opposition to animal cruelty. Third, “security sources” is hopelessly vague. Intelligence agents? Someone with a background in security, but now providing rent-a-quotes to grateful journalists? This is a genre of speculation where no-one is reputationally accountable or has to demonstrate proper expertise: previous items citing vague and anonymous “security sources” I have noted over the years include this 2010 Mail on Sunday story about Islamic terrorists having bombs implanted inside their breasts and buttocks.

The 22 April article also mentions, very near the end:

…Separately from the briefing from security sources, the MoS has independently discovered that the hard-Right English Constitution Party has used Twitter to urge supporters to protest at the Coronation, and ‘bring rape alarms’.

The Tweet can be seen here. Although it may have been discovered by the newspaper “separately from the briefing”, it’s reasonable to suspect that this is also what inspired the “security sources”. Were the “group or groups” supposedly “behind the plan” left unspecified deliberately, so that a false impression could be made?

But even if the “security sources” didn’t see this Tweet, it shows that the idea of using rape alarms to disrupt an event is a generic possibility. Could it be that the “security sources” provided a list of hypotheticals, and that this one was singled out for a front-page splash simply because it is the prospect most likely to anger and alienate the general public? The quote from Rees-Mogg in particular struck me as a red flag: the paper has a tendency to run dubious stories based on government talking points, such as a false claim from him in December that the Met Office (the Meteorological Office, not to be confused with the Metropolitan Police) had failed to predict a cold snap due to its employees working from home.

Nevertheless, despite such doubts the paper now claims confirmation:

Two women and a man were arrested over a plot to throw rape alarms at horses during King Charles’s Coronation.

The militant activists were arrested in the Soho area at 2am this morning – just hours before the procession.

It comes just weeks after senior security sources told the Mail on Sunday protesters were plotting to sabotage the Coronation in this way.

The newspaper quotes Deputy Assistant Commissioner Ade Adelekan as saying that “The intelligence we received led us to be extremely worried about the potential risk to public safety”, but it’s not clear if this was anything more substantial than a heightened concern based on the earlier Mail on Sunday article. Further, the new article adds:

It was reported that the three arrested were members of the Westminster City Council’s night time volunteers.

Councillor Aicha Less, Cabinet Member for Communities and Public Protection, said yesterday: ‘We are deeply concerned by reports of our Night Stars volunteers being arrested overnight.

The volunteers wear branded orange visibility jackets, and they reportedly carry a supply of rape alarms that they give to women who may be vulnerable on their way home after a night out. At least one of the arrested volunteers is also involved with Extinction Rebellion, but it is difficult to see how being in Soho on a Friday night connects coherently with a plot involving the procession route the next day. The situation was brought to widespread attention by Mic Wright, a journalist who attended the police station where they were taken (Elephant and Castle in South London rather than Charing Cross, the nearest station to Soho). New information may put a different light on matters, but that’s simply a truism that applies to anything. The paper’s confidence that the arrests prove their earlier story is not substantiated, and there are strong reasons to doubt it.

The policing of the Coronation of King Charles has also come under scrutiny due to arrests of the leaders of the campaigning group Republic, who had organised a lawful protest at Trafalgar Square. As reported by the BBC:

Footage showed protesters in “Not My King” t-shirts being detained, including Mr [Graham] Smith. Republic said they were stopped by police while unloading signs near the procession.

The Met said “lock-on devices” – which protesters can use to secure themselves to things like railings – had been seized. Recent changes to the law, passed this week, make it illegal to prepare to lock-on.

But Republic said officers had “misconstrued” straps meant to secure their signs in place.

The Mail on Sunday‘s reference to a “fear” that groups would “join forces” left ambiguous whether they meant Republic or just different environmental groups, although the front page of the print edition made an explicit connection between “eco-warriors and republican fanatics”. However, Republic has no history of disruptive “direct action” stunts, and anyone planning one is hardly likely to draw attention to themselves beforehand with a t-shirt and placard. And what were they supposed to be planning to lock themselves onto? Meanwhile, the claim that the police had “intelligence” about a plot has now expanded into a more generalised form, as expounded by Ed Balls on Good Morning Britain, in response to a critique by Peter Tatchell:

If they were arrested for holding placards, that would be a terrible thing. It can’t be the case that Peter’s right about that. There must have been intelligence they had about what the plan was.

UPDATE (9 May): An announcement from Westminster City Council:

We have met with the Metropolitan Police to discuss the arrest of our Night Stars, about which we have been deeply concerned. We are pleased to confirm that all three of our volunteers, who provide such a valuable service to the community, have been released without charge and will not face any further action.


1. The Mail on Sunday took credit here, revealing that “an MoS reporter posing as a member of the Animal Rebellion” had exposed the plan. This was cited by the paper’s diarist Richard Eden as supporting evidence for the rape-alarm plot, although in the latter case the paper didn’t claim first-hand knowledge.

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