An Australian royal superfan says she was arrested and held in a cell for 13 hours during the coronation after police mistook her for a Just Stop Oil protester.
Alice Chambers, 36, told the I Newspaper she was alone on The Mall in Central London on Saturday eagerly awaiting a glimpse of King Charles III when she was suddenly handcuffed by Metropolitan Police officers.
The architect, who has lived in London for seven years, said she had no idea she was sitting beside the group because they had not started protesting.
She was among around a dozen people arrested on suspicion of “potential to cause a breach of the peace” at around 9am.
“I was just sitting on my little stool and I noticed there was some yelling and then some police swooped in and were pushing the crowd back,” she told the newspaper.
“I must have been right on the edge of that, I went to get up and two police officers just grabbed me and handcuffed me. I don’t think they said anything, I think they arrested me before they asked a question.
“I feel like once I was in the system they didn’t listen, I tried to explain that I wasn’t part of the group.”
Ms Chambers said during the 13-hour ordeal she was repeatedly questioned, physically searched and had her DNA, fingerprints and mugshot taken.
It wasn’t until she was interviewed by two senior officers at 7pm that police acknowledged their mistake — but it was still another two-and-a-half hours before she was able to leave Wandsworth police station at 10pm.
“I think the only question they asked me was, ‘Why were you on The Mall?’” she said.
“I explained the whole thing, how I went down there at 7am to get a good spot, how I went one way and it was blocked and I ended up walking back to where there seemed to be some space.
“They looked at each other and then they asked, ‘Have you ever heard of Just Stop Oil?’ I said, ‘Up until today no.’ They said, ‘We have no further questions and we’re really sorry you’ve been caught up in this.’
“That was the point I started crying and got emotional — that was the first time anyone had been able to listen to my side of the story.
“I asked them, ‘Was there anything I could have done that would have meant I didn’t end up here?’”
London’s Metropolitan Police has faced criticism over the arrest of 64 people around the coronation using new anti-protest laws intended to crack down on disruptive actions by environmental groups including Just Stop Oil.
Police were widely criticised for detaining six members of antimonarchy group Republic early on Saturday, including its chief executive Graham Smith.
The Met expressed “regret” late on Monday that the demonstrators had been unable to join the protest as planned and revealed they would not face any further action.
Met Commissioner Mark Rowley defended the force, arguing that arresting officers had been “vigilant, curious and proactive” and had formed the “reasonable suspicion” that the group was planning disruption.
“While it is unfortunate that the six people affected by this were unable to join the hundreds of peaceful protesters, I support the officers’ actions in this unique, fast-moving operational context,” he said.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Monday backed police, insisting officers act independently of government based on “what they think is best” after claims they were cracking down at the behest of politicians.
Mr Sunak said the country’s police forces were “operationally independent”.
“They [the Met] make the decisions on the ground in the way that they see fit,” Mr Sunak told broadcasters. “That’s the way that we’ve always done it. That’s the right way to do it. It wouldn’t be right for me to interfere with their operational decisions.”
Ms Chambers said she had filed a complaint with the Met and the Independent Office for Police Conduct over her treatment.
“I understand why the police were on the edge, they did have a tough job that day,” she told I Newspaper.
“But they need to have better processes and better training in place because innocent people shouldn’t be getting locked up for that long. I just want to do as much as I can to get the message out there so it doesn’t happen to other people.”
A Met spokesman said, “We are aware that a woman was arrested in relation to a protest on May 6, 2023.
“The arresting officer was from Lincolnshire Police and the complaint has therefore been passed to the relevant force to investigate. The Met will assist by providing any relevant information they require.”
Prior to the coronation, London’s police force said it has more than 11,500 officers on duty for Operation Golden Orb, making it “one of the most significant and largest security operations the Met has led”.
“Our tolerance for any disruption, whether through protest or otherwise, will be low,” police said in a statement. “We will deal robustly with anyone intent on undermining this celebration.”
Under the new protest laws which came into effect last Wednesday, protesters who interfere with “key national infrastructure” such as by blocking roads or railways could face up to a year behind bars.
— with AFP