Met police chief Sir Mark Rowley under pressure over London Gaza marches and Stephen Lawrence case failure

Met chief Sir Mark Rowley was under mounting pressure today over the force’s policing of pro-Gaza marches and another failure on the Stephen Lawrence murder case.

Mayor Sadiq Khan was meeting London’s police commissioner this afternoon to discuss the two issues, which have sparked fresh concerns about the force’s leadership.

Sir Mark was also due to meet Home Secretary James Cleverly, who was expected to hold him to “account for what happened” in a “deeply regrettable” incident where an officer described the Campaign Against Antisemitism’s chief executive Gideon Falter as “openly Jewish” as he stopped him crossing the street through a march.

Rishi Sunak said the Commissioner continued to have his confidence but stressed that he shared “the shock and the anger” felt by many over the clips of the standoff between Mr Falter and the Met sergeant.

“What I would say about Mark Rowley and the police is they do have a difficult job, of course, I appreciate that. But what happened was clearly wrong. And it’s right that they’ve apologised for that,” the PM told a news conference this morning.

“And yes, I do have confidence in him, but that’s on the basis that he works to rebuild the confidence and trust of not just the Jewish community, but the wider public, particularly people in London... by making it clear that the police are not tolerating behaviour that we would all collectively deem unacceptable when we see it, because it undermines our values,” he added.

Deputy Foreign Secretary Andrew Mitchell stressed the case highlighted the need for “better leadership” at the top of the force.

Mr Falter, who has called for Sir Mark to quit after he was told by a Met officer not to walk towards pro-Palestinian protesters in Aldwych, said that while he was being threatened with arrest, police did nothing as he was subjected to taunts of “Nazi” and “scum” and aggressively confronted by one man who threatened to follow him.

Monday’s Evening Standard front Page (Evening Standard)
Monday’s Evening Standard front Page (Evening Standard)

The force issued a statement apologising for the incident in central London on April 13. But it was then forced to apologise for its apology after suggesting opponents of pro-Palestinian marches “must know that their presence is provocative”.

Longer footage of the incident has since emerged showing police officers making the controversial “openly Jewish” and “arrest” comments but also offering to escort Mr Falter across the road using a different route than going through the pro-Gaza march.

Mr Mitchell stressed there were “strategic” policing issues that needed addressing. He told Sky News: “It was an appalling episode and the Home Secretary will undoubtedly hold Sir Mark... to account for what happened.

He added: “The police officer was just trying to make sure that there wasn’t an incident... It’s very important to recognise that the police are having to make extremely difficult decisions but they need better leadership and better direction from the top so that this sort of issue does not happen.”

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael said: “Ultimately, the buck stops with Mark Rowley. This case must be investigated and acted on so to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”

Sir Mark was also due meet to representatives of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the London Jewish Forum and the Community Safety Trust. In the second statement, the Met said: “We will do everything we can to constantly develop our approach in response to operational challenges to ensure the trust and confidence of all Londoners.

“This is complex, but we will continue to seek the support and insight of all voices who can help us deliver the service London deserves.”

A spokesman for Mr Khan stressed the Met “must have the confidence of the communities they serve and it is right that they have apologised for the way the incident was handled and their original public response”. However, at least a large part of his meeting with Sir Mark was expected to focus on the force’s latest mistake over the Stephen Lawrence case.

Campaign Against Antisemitism chief executive Gideon Falter was threatened with arrest near a pro-Palestine demonstration (Campaign Against Antisemitism/PA) (PA Media)
Campaign Against Antisemitism chief executive Gideon Falter was threatened with arrest near a pro-Palestine demonstration (Campaign Against Antisemitism/PA) (PA Media)

Sir Mark has apologised to Stephen’s mother, Baroness Doreen Lawrence, for the Met not fulfilling a promise to answer questions stemming from a BBC investigation into the murder of the 18-year-old by a racist gang in Eltham, south-east London, in April 1993. The broadcaster says she was promised an explanation after the BBC last year named Matthew White as the sixth suspect in the case. A mayoral source said: “Sadiq is clear that the way Doreen Lawrence has been treated is totally unacceptable and it is one of the key reasons he has asked to meet the Commissioner today.”

Mr Falter said he would turn up at the next pro-Palestinian march in London on Saturday, and encouraged other Jewish people and supporters to do so. He added: “We’re not organising a march or a protest. I’m just saying, no banners, no flags, I’m just going for a walk looking like I’m Jewish because I’m Jewish and other people should feel free to do the same. If these things are being properly policed then that will be a safe thing to do. I’m not confident.”