Israel-Hamas war: Met Police chief calls for 'sharper' laws in dealing with extremism

The Met Police chief has said there is scope for "sharper" laws in dealing with extremism as he faces criticism over the handling of pro-Palestinian protests in London.

It comes as two women have been held on suspicion of inciting racial hatred following an incident in Trafalgar Square yesterday during a march.

Sir Mark Rowley's force has faced criticism over how demonstrations in London have been handled - but he told Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips that his officers are working "ruthlessly" to arrest anyone who "steps over the line" by committing a hate crime.

Detectives were reviewing a potential "hate crime incident" in central London yesterday following chanting that referenced the Battle of Khaybar - a massacre of Jews in 628 by Islamic forces.

Politics Hub: Stricter clampdown' for protesters committing hate crimes ahead

Sir Mark told Sky News that while the UK has robust laws in dealing with hate crime, there is a "gap" when it comes to extremism.

He said: "I think there is scope to be much sharper in how we deal with extremism in this country. The law was never designed to deal with extremism.

"There's a lot to do with terrorism and hate crime but we don't have a body of law that deals with extremism and that is creating a gap."

The UK government is reportedly planning on reconsidering its definition of extremism amid concerns the Met Police aren't being tough enough against protesters they believe are inciting hatred.

There was anger after the Met said they had not identified any offences from a clip of a protest in which a member of the crowd could be heard chanting the word "jihad".

Sir Mark Rowley said there have been "distasteful" scenes at recent pro-Palestine protests but some of those actions were not at the level to be prosecuted.

"We've got these big protests and some of what goes on there, people do find it upsetting and distasteful and sometimes people give an instinctive view that must not be legal.

"But there's no point arresting hundreds of people if it's not prosecutable, that's just inflaming things."

He added that police "robustly enforce up to the line of the law" and about 100 people had been arrested at demonstrations held since the Hamas attack on Israel three weeks ago.

"We're going to be absolutely ruthless and we have been and you'll see many more arrests over the next week or so."

Some government ministers have been critical of the policing of pro-Palestinian rallies - which come against the backdrop of worsening conflict in the Middle East.

The number of people killed in Gaza since the conflict started has climbed to 8,005, according to the Hamas-led Gaza health ministry. The strip is being bombarded in response to the deadly Hamas attacks on October 7, in which at least 1,400 people were killed on Israeli soil.

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Science Secretary Michelle Donelan told Trevor Phillips that the government "want to see a stricter clampdown" of the protests, saying some have "crossed the line".

She gave the example of people brandishing images of Hamas paragliders, saying: "I personally think that it is inciting hatred and something the police should be looking at".

"The home secretary has been working with police because we want to see a stricter clampdown," she added.

However, she said she believed the existing law is "fit for purpose" when asked if the government might review the definition of extremism.

The Sunday Telegraph has reported officials in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities are examining a suggested new definition of hateful extremism in a move designed to counter hate, including antisemitism.

Pressed on the reports, Ms Donelan said: "Everything is always kept under constant review. In terms of a formal review, what we've said to date is that we believe the existing law is robust enough and the police should be applying that in these circumstances.

"Of course if we feel over the coming weeks that that is not enough, what I'm saying is that of course we would (take action."