Police believe that crowds of students protesting about tuition fees last week were infiltrated by “organised groups of hardcore activists and street gangs bent on violence”, Home Secretary Theresa May has said.
Mrs May said that police had already received a good public response to the publication of photos of suspected ringleaders and she expected significant numbers of arrests.
Some 35 people were arrested on Thursday as the demonstration against the tripling in university tuition fees descended into scenes of violence across central London, including an attack on a car containing the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall.
Following speculation that Camilla was struck by a stick pushed through the window of the royal couple’s car, Mrs May confirmed that “there was some contact made”.
The Home Secretary called on student leaders to unequivocally condemn the “appalling” scenes of violence, and told the House of Commons: “This Government is determined to protect the right to peaceful protest, but violence is unacceptable and the perpetrators of that violence must be brought to justice.”
While some students had behaved “disgracefully”, it was clear that many of those committing acts of violence were “organised thugs”, she told MPs.
Shadow home secretary Ed Balls also condemned the violence, but stressed that Labour MPs “share the dismay and anger and injustice felt by hundreds of thousands of students and young people at the deeply unfair hike in tuition fees and the abolition of Education Maintenance Allowances”.
Mr Balls urged Mrs May to shelve a cost-cutting review of royal security which he said was on her desk, at a time of increasing threats and in the run-up to the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton next spring. And he called for her to commission a wider review of the current level of threat and the arrangements for the security of the Royal Family.
More than 30 police officers were injured last Thursday as protesters hurled bottles, stones, paint, golf balls, snooker balls and flares and used metal crush barriers as weapons, said Mrs May. Six officers required hospital treatment, all of whom have been released. Meanwhile, an Independent Police Complaints Commission inquiry has been launched into the injuries sustained by a protester who required surgery to his brain.
With more student protests expected when the House of Lords debate tuition fees on Tuesday, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers Sir Hugh Orde said that the use of water cannon was inappropriate to deal with demonstrations of the kind seen last week. But an Acpo spokesman made clear that the use of water cannon had not been ruled out for the future.