Pro-Palestinian protesters are planning to hold a vigil at a war memorial this weekend as part of 150 rallies across the country, but police have claimed they will only be able to arrest people who physically damage monuments.
On Sunday in Colchester, a town with a long military history, protesters are due to gather in front of the city’s Grade II listed war memorial, erected in 1923.
Essex Police defended its decision to allow the protest to go ahead, pointing out that peaceful rallies had been regularly staged at the memorial in recent weeks.
The force said an “appropriate and proportionate” policing plan would be in place.
Scotland Yard said 11 demonstrations were planned in London on Saturday with dozens of others taking place in towns and cities from Truro in Cornwall to Kirkwall in Orkney.
The smaller local rallies are set to temporarily replace the large marches calling for a ceasefire in Gaza seen in London in recent weeks.
However, Met Commander Karen Findlay admitted that there could be “challenging” situations where officers were unable to arrest protesters who climbed on monuments as “no explicit law” existed.
She added: “At a minimum [officers] are to intervene decisively when they see behaviour which is obviously disrespectful, using their skills in dealing with the public as they do every day.
“They will be looking to take positive action, including arrests, as soon as disrespectful behaviour becomes disorderly behaviour of the sort covered by a number of public order offences. They will also intervene where necessary to prevent a breach of the peace.
“Protesters intent on climbing over memorials and other monuments should also keep in mind that they weren’t designed for this purpose, making them prone to damage which will likely constitute a criminal offence.
“There is clear legislation in place to deal with damage of any sort, even if it is minimal or was caused recklessly and not intentionally.”
It comes after the Met Commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, admitted this week that police do not have the power to arrest protesters who climb on memorials, despite Prime Minister Rishi Sunak saying it was “an affront to our Armed Forces”.
Footage of pro-Palestinian demonstrators clambering on the Royal Artillery Memorial at Hyde Park Corner on Wednesday evening has led to fears similar scenes could be repeated at protests this weekend.
The Campaign Against Antisemitism said that previously “genocidal chanting and rhetoric” at protests had largely been confined to London.
A spokesman said: “This weekend the so-called ‘peaceful protesters’ will be preaching hate in towns and cities across Britain.
“The Met Police have failed in their duty to prevent London becoming a no-go zone for Jews.
“We will see whether other forces take stronger action against any criminality that arises in these rallies in their jurisdictions.”
Public order policing experts have insisted there is no specific legislation preventing people from climbing on monuments and said the application of other laws would not have been appropriate in the situation at Hyde Park this week.
The Palestinian Solidarity Campaign (PSC), which is organising Saturday’s “national day of action”, said that upwards of 30,000 activists were expected to attend the latest wave of demonstrations.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s office in Camden, North London, has been named as the site of one of the planned rallies.
South Wales Police announced on Friday it was investigating after Labour MP Jo Stevens’ office in Cardiff was sprayed with red paint and posters accusing her of having “blood on her hands” were put up.
Ben Jamal, PSC director, said: “This Saturday, ordinary people across the UK will come out again to show the vast majority of them support a ceasefire.”
The group insisted that this weekend’s demonstrations would, once again, be peaceful.
On Friday, it emerged that West Yorkshire Police was investigating alleged anti-semitic posts on the Facebook page of the Leeds branch of the PSC.
A police spokesman said: “We are looking into the matter to establish whether any offences have been committed.”
One of the images allegedly posted to the group showed a lion draped in a Palestinian flag holding a rat wrapped in the flag of Israel in its mouth.