Nick Ferrari goes behind the scenes at the Met Police's massive efforts to keep the peace at heated protests

1 May 2024, 00:00 | Updated: 3 May 2024, 15:16

Nick Ferrari spent the day in the Met Police Operations Control Room
Nick Ferrari spent the day in the Met Police Operations Control Room. Picture: LBC
Nick Ferrari

By Nick Ferrari

The first thing that strikes you is the sheer size of the operation.

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And then the calm. But, when I visited the Metropolitan Police Central Command Centre, on the morning of the most recent pro-Palestinian demonstration last Saturday morning, was it to be the calm before the storm?

Since October last year, the cost of policing those demos has risen to £38.4m. But, spend the morning with teams assigned to the task and you quickly find out why.

As well as 1,300 police officers 'on shift' last weekend you had air support with the helicopter, police drone film units - and even the old technology of horses in reserve.

The day starts with post-dawn briefings from the relevant commander and the instructions are plain: the police must help facilitate peaceful protest and protect everyone's safety.

But following some high-profile incidents between police and some demonstrators, there's another key message to impart.

"Don't engage in lengthy political conversations, remain polite at all times, be aware you're most likely being filmed - and we're here to keep everyone safe, "are the orders from one senior commander.

An LBC Reporter also joined police on the ground for the protest and counter demo
An LBC Reporter also joined police on the ground for the protest and counter demo. Picture: LBC

As the march sets off the main pressure point becomes clear. As the pro-Palestinian demo reaches the end of Whitehall, it will come within a football penalty box-sized no man's land which will separate them from a pre-arranged Enough is Enough counter-protest with up to 100 people mostly waving Israeli flags.

Lines of police are arranged on both sides as well as barriers to keep the groups apart. And it all seems to be working well until ...

A group of demonstrators with no flags or banners suddenly materialise and try to get into the action. But a line of police informs them they cannot be permitted past the barriers. Suddenly, the inspector informing them of this has more cameras poked at her than a football manager who's just won the FA Cup!

But the Met then deploys its own video team - to film the increasingly fractious group of men filming the police!

Meanwhile, specialist teams back at the command centre scan the banks of monitors for any potentially offensive slogans or clothing. As soon as one is spotted, officers are dispatched to determine if action is needed.

There were several hundred thousand demonstrators on this particular day, but the mood in the small Gold Command chamber that is in overall control of the operation has been one of calm since kick-off.

"Having done this for so many years, you can sense if things are going to get testy. This never felt like that," one officer confides.

But in Silver Command, running the minute-by-minute side of things, it's fair to say it's considerably busier. Their role is to control pretty much everything unless matters need to be escalated up to Gold.

Which just goes to show that in just about every job, there are advantages to being in the "boss class"