MP for Hendon, Dr Matthew Offord, today raised in Parliament the Metropolitan Police’s lack of action following his complaint about the presence of Hezbollah flags at a Downing Street demonstration in September.
In Business Questions on Thursday, the MP for Hendon asked the Leader of the Commons if a Minister would come to the House to explain why the police did not think it necessary to take legal action against identified individuals who were flying Hezbollah flags, shouting anti-Semitic remarks and making anti-Semitic gestures.
The Leader of the House of Commons, Rt. Hon. Chris Grayling MP, responded by stating the incident was a criminal matter and that he would like to see the police take legal action. He also recommended that the Hendon MP take up the matter with both the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary.
Dr Offord said: “Given the 20% increase in the number of reported hate crimes in the past year, will a Minister come to the Dispatch Box to explain why the Metropolitan police have written to me to say that they do not consider it necessary to take legal action against identified individuals who were protesting outside Downing Street on 9th September when a mob was waving Hezbollah flags, shouting anti-Semitic remarks and making anti-Semitic gestures?”
Leader of the House, Chris Grayling replied: “Let us be clear: hate crime is unacceptable in our society. Anti-Semitic behaviour is unacceptable in our society, as is the reverse, which is when we sometimes see hostile actions taken against mosques in this country. This is an issue that my hon. Friend should raise on the occasions that are available to him with both the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister. All of us agree that this is something that should be acted on; it is not acceptable and we would always wish to see the police take strong action when such behaviour occurs”.
In a meeting with Conservative MPs last October, the Home Secretary made it clear that new guidance on hate crime has been issued to all police forces which makes specific mention of anti-Semitism and confirmed that the flying of ISIS, Hezbollah, and Hamas flags is a criminal offence. Hezbollah’s military wing is proscribed across the EU as a terrorist organisation.
Condemning the Metropolitan Police’s lack of legal action against the presence of the flags, Dr Offord said: “The response from the Metropolitan Police is factually incorrect and contradicts both the Home Secretary and the Terrorism Act itself. I attended the demonstration and witnessed what happened and at no point did the police instruct anyone to remove the display of terrorist flags. The senior officer told me his priority was to keep demonstrators apart and that CCTV would record those committing offences and action would be taken at a later date. It has been confirmed to me by the Metropolitan Police that this will not be the case. It is peculiar that in the same week that it was announced that the number of reported hate crimes has increased by 20%, the police fail to take any action in a case where the law is clear. This sends a very worrying message to my constituents”.
The Downing Street demonstration in question was held by pro-Palestinian protesters during the visit to the UK by Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu in September.
Dr Offord attended the scene and witnessed Hezbollah flags being flown, contrary to the Terrorism Act. Having brought the issue to the attention of the senior police officer in attendance, he was assured that action would be taken at a later date when the demonstration had concluded. The Hendon MP also sent a letter to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police seeking further assurances that the issue would be addressed.
TheMetropolitan Police’s response to Dr Offord’s letter stated: “ …the flag represents both its [Hezbollah’s] political party and the proscribed terrorist group, displaying it in these circumstances alone does not constitute an offence under Terrorism Legislation. Other actions such as chanting or slogans are required for the offence to be proved. Officers deployed were aware of this and actively sought additional evidence. There was none apparent. Despite this the Senior Officer present directed that the flags be put away to prevent any further disturbance”.