What about Alfie? Top cop owes him an apology too
Charles and Camilla get a fawning apology from the Met commissioner. But they didn’t need emergency brain surgery
Are we living in Ruritania? According to the Sunday Times, Sir Paul Stephenson, Britain's most senior cop, offered his resignation as Commissioner of London's Metropolitan Police to His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, after the car carrying Charles and his wife was surrounded by protesters in central London last week.
Now we know that HRH, number two in a constitutional monarchy, has long had ideas on architecture, planning and whatever else swims into his appalled view - if not above his station, certainly beyond the parameters of his 'above the fray' non-political role. But even Charles clearly baulked at the idea that he should accept Sir Paul's resignation.
The Met Commissioner is responsible to us, the people, through the Home Secretary. His grand-standing offer to go (he admitted to colleagues, apparently, that his resignation was unlikely to be accepted) was all of a piece with the fiasco that unfolded on Thursday during the student protests against the coalition Government's trebling of tuition fees.
Reporting a demonstration that shades at its margins into a riot is not an easy task. Over many years I have scurried around the streets of London trying to make sense of skirmishes, speeches, police charges, hurled missiles, baton assaults, disputed numbers and testimony.
Truth tends to lie in the eye of the beholder: reporters from right-wing papers see gallant cops attacked by anarchist scum, while those (usually far fewer) scribes from the left see police lose their cool.
Reported injuries give a limited picture, because the police catalogue even slight grazes on their side, while demonstrators' injuries only get logged if severe enough for hospital treatment.
On Thursday, there clearly were injuries and violence on both sides. But two of the people certainly not hurt who indeed proceeded to their 'duties' of a night out at the London Palladium were Charles and Camilla.
So the question should be: if Sir Paul is seriously thinking of quitting, ought it not to be for the consequences of failures by his force other than the upset experienced by the heir to the throne?
One student, 20-year-old Alfie Meadows, was allegedly struck so severely by a police baton that he fell unconscious and required emergency brain surgery.
That is bad enough. But the story emerging is far, far worse: that police officers prevented Alfie's tutor summoning an ambulance; that when he finally did get to the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, there was a stand-off because according to Alfie's mother the hospital was treating injured police who didn't want an obvious protestor, however badly hurt, treated in the same building.
Even in Afghanistan, coalition Medevac helicopters will remove injured Taliban fighters for treatment even in the heat of battle.
It was only - as Alfie's mother, Susan Matthews, 55, herself a university lecturer and also on the demonstration reported - the intervention of an appalled ambulance man, who insisted that Alfie stayed put, that stopped him being driven away to another hospital with severe (and possibly fatal) consequences.
A senior nurse then took the stricken Alfie to a separate resuscitation room to keep him away from the police who found it "upsetting" to see protestors in the hospital.
Jody McIntyre, also 20, a wheelchair-bound demonstrator who suffers from cerebral palsy, claims that he was twice pulled from his chair by police on Thursday.
He was hit, he says, with a baton; grabbed and carried 100 yards to behind the police lines, and only reunited with his wheelchair after 10 minutes when his brother was allowed through. Half-an-hour later he claims he was again pulled from his chair by one of the same policemen.
I once spent the day of a student demonstration alongside police officers, ordinary plods from outer London brought into Westminster in case of trouble.
We hung about in vans for hours, lurking in side streets in case the officers were needed. In fact, it was a quiet day with little to do beyond routine crowd control but inside those vehicles (officers themselves 'kettled'), patience wears thin and the temperature rises. The chat was all about the 'scum' they had to police.
When finally liberated into a melee that is even more shapeless to them than it is to reporters, it is little wonder that the more aggressive can lose control. As one Sunday paper columnist commented: "Some of the yobs were wearing uniforms."
Violent and distressing incidents affect individuals, but clearly the police lost the wider plot. They allowed both the Treasury and the Supreme Court to be repeatedly attacked. And though they had warned both West End shop-keepers and even a street sweeper of possible violence, they allowed the royal Rolls Royce straight into the eye of the storm. Lord Lucan conducted the charge of the Light Brigade with more tactical savvy than the Metropolitan police showed on Thursday.
Perhaps Sir Paul should consider his position. But if he intends seriously to tender his resignation, he should call the Home Secretary rather than the heir to the throne. We do not live in Ruritania nor even a Gulf state.
And now that Sir Paul has apologised to Charles, maybe he could give Alfie Meadows a call too and say sorry. A second-year philosophy student at Middlesex University, Alfie is said to be recovering well after his operation. But he really was very badly hurt. ·
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