Boris Johnson has announced he will endorse the use of a water cannon by the Metropolitan Police, prompting outcry from opponents that the Mayor used the day of the Budget to bury his approval of the bitterly controversial measure.
The cannons will be used as an extreme measure to tackle violent disorder, like the rampages last seen in the 2011 London riots, the Mayor said.
Facing a weight of opposition from civil liberties campaigners and many Assembly Members from his own party, Johnson has recommended Home Secretary Theresa May approve the use of a water cannon in "limited circumstances".
Johnson said he had been convinced of the benefits, saying he had "taken into account both the professional advice of the MPS that water cannon is a valuable tool, and the broad public backing for its use," he wrote in a letter to the Home Office.
“No one wants to see water cannon deployed routinely on the streets of London," Johnson said in a speech to the London Assembly on Wednesday.
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“But having carefully considered the responses to the consultation and extensive poll I have concluded that Londoners support the use of water cannon in limited situations of extreme public disorder.
“The Commissioner has assured me that they will be rarely seen and rarely used and not used to respond to public protest.”
The two cannons which Met commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe has identified are second-hand, from Germany, and will cost £200,000.
Opinion is deeply divided. A poll carried out as part of a public consultation over the plan found that more than two thirds of Londoners cautiously approved the use of water cannons.
The Metropolitan Police has repeatedly stressed the benefits of the cannons as a crowd control measure, in the aftermath of both the 2011 London Riots and the student fees protests. Johnson has previously said he would not have backed the use of cannons against the students during the London protests.
But the opposition says most Londoners are unaware of the full picture. More than 35,000 people have signed a petition against the use of the machines.
The London Assembly voted against the purchase of water cannon, with all Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green AMs united against the plan.
Senior Tories also opposed the measure, including former deputy mayor for policing Kit Malthouse and deputy mayor Victoria Borwick.
Joanne McCartney, Labour's Police and Crime spokesperson, accused Johnson of burying the proposal, announcing his approval on the same day of the Budget and said the Mayor was "rushing the purchase of water cannon without a proper public debate".
"To announce this on Budget Day is typical of Boris’ slapdash approach to issues of crucial importance to Londoners," McCartney said.
The Labour AM said Johnson "has not even read the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee report on water cannon. It clearly stated there was contradictory evidence on their effectiveness and that the case had not been made.
"The Mayor is trying to bounce this decision through in a matter of weeks and Londoners are being given virtually no chance to express their views."
Johnson has said he backed the Met's determination to secure the water cannons by the summer, in case of more disorder. But McCartney said the Mayor and the police had "no specific intelligence that disorder was anticipated."
In February, German pensioner Dietrich Wagner, who was blinded by a police water cannon, addressed the consultation meeting on the use of the cannons. Hit during an environmental protest, Wagner was left unconscious, his eyes irreparably damaged when he took the full force of a water cannon to the face.
His eyelids were torn by the force of the water, damaging the lenses of his eyes and fracturing his orbital bone around the eye.
Rebecca Newsom, of the campaign group No to Water Cannon told HuffPost UK in a statement: "We know that water cannon is both ineffective and dangerous, yet Boris Johnson has decided to give it the green light.
"What proponents of water cannon fail to make clear is that this weapon presents a clear danger to the public."
The Mayor had "ignored" Wagner's plea to keep water cannons of London's streets, she said.
"The Mayor is clearly happy to ignore the public consultation results. He seems to be ignorant to the risks of this weapon, admitting this morning that he failed to read the report against the plans by his own Police and Crime Committee," Newsom continued.
“This decision is all about looking tough but it could change the nature of policing in London forever. Let us hope that the Home Secretary sees sense and stops the deployment of these dangerous and ineffective weapons."