PM refuses to back Met chief over ‘appalling’ treatment of Jewish man

Footage emerged showing a Met officer telling anti-Semitism campaigner Gideon Falter that he was 'openly Jewish'
Footage emerged showing a Met officer telling anti-Semitism campaigner Gideon Falter that he was 'openly Jewish' - Tom Bowles
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Rishi Sunak has refused to offer his backing to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner after one of his officers threatened to arrest an “openly Jewish” man for walking in central London during a pro-Palestine protest.

The Prime Minister said the threat to arrest anti-Semitism campaigner Gideon Falter was “appalling” and Sir Mark Rowley had questions to answer, in his first comment on the incident.

It came after Oliver Dowden, the Deputy Prime Minister, said the Met had shown “disrespect” to the Jewish community, while minister Claire Coutinho also declined to offer government backing for the embattled head of Scotland Yard.

A government source told The Telegraph: “The PM has seen the footage and is as appalled as everyone else by the officer calling Mr Falter ‘openly Jewish’.

“He expects the Met commissioner to account for how it happened and what he will do to ensure officers do more to make Jewish communities in London feel safe.”

Sir Mark will now be called to meet James Cleverly, the Home Secretary, and it is expected he will be asked to account for the officer’s treatment of Mr Falter and his force’s wider handling of the protest.

Sir Mark Rowley will hold talks with leading Jewish groups this week as he attempts to shore up his position
Sir Mark Rowley will hold talks with leading Jewish groups this week as he attempts to shore up his position - Nigel Howard

Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has also called in the commissioner for a crisis meeting on Monday.

Sir Mark, who took over as boss of the Met in September 2022, is now trying to quell mounting anger among Britain’s Jewish community by meeting the Board of Deputies and other organisations.

He has faced repeated calls for months to shut down weekly pro-Palestine demonstrations in the capital but has said he has no powers to do so.

Mr Falter, head of the Campaign Against Antisemitism, has said London has become a “police-enforced Jew-free zone” as a result of the demonstrations every weekend.

A spokesman for Mr Khan, who is in charge of overseeing the capital’s policing, said he would meet Sir Mark to “discuss community relations”.

They described the treatment of Mr Falter as “concerning”. It is understood the Mayor of London plans to raise the incident but still has “full confidence” in the commissioner.

Meanwhile, a planned meeting between Sir Mark and Chris Philp, the policing minister, has been upgraded and will now also include Mr Cleverly.

The Home Secretary is set to challenge Sir Mark over whether he is using all the powers at his disposal to crack down on extremism at rallies.

“We have given the police new powers. The Prime Minister and Home Secretary want them to use those powers to their fullest extent,” an ally told The Telegraph.

Those powers include the ability to impose restrictions on the length and route of protests and ultimately even ban them.

A government source said Mr Cleverly retained full confidence in Sir Mark, with No 10 saying it was ultimately the Home Secretary’s backing that mattered as he oversees the Met in law.

The Met boss and his deputy, Matt Twist, will also hold talks with Jewish community groups after they were warned the incident had badly damaged trust.

Sir Mark is set to meet the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Jewish Leadership Council and the Community Security Trust (CST) through the course of the week.

The meeting with the Board of Deputies was set up after it wrote to him expressing concern at “a series of high-profile errors” that have had a “devastating effect” on trust in the force.

The CST, which monitors incidents of anti-Semitism, suggested that the time had come for the Met and the Government to ban any further marches.

“It feels like any balance between the right to protest and the rights of everyone else has been completely lost, with extremists the only ones to benefit,” it said.

Mr Twist, meanwhile, has offered to meet Mr Falter this week to apologise for suggesting his presence near the pro-Palestine rally was “provocative”.

Huge backlash

The assistant commissioner made the remarks in an initial statement on the incident, issued on Friday afternoon, which was swiftly retracted following a backlash.

The original incident happened on Saturday April 13, when Mr Falter was stopped by officers as he tried to cross a road during a pro-Palestinian protest.

He had just come from the synagogue and was walking in the Aldwych area of central London wearing a kippah skullcap.

He was stopped by a Met sergeant, who told him that his presence near the march could inflame tensions and he was threatened with arrest if he did not leave.

In a video of the exchange, the officer said: “You are quite openly Jewish. This is a pro-Palestinian march. I am not accusing you of anything but I am worried about the reaction to your presence.”

Mr Falter said he was approached in a similar way later by another uniformed officer.

In a statement, the Campaign Against Antisemitism said that Mr Falter had accepted Mr Twist’s apology and was free to meet him on Monday.

It said he must explain new footage, published by Sky News, which showed Mr Falter offering to take off his skullcap if it meant he was allowed to cross the road.

The officer can be heard replying: “No sir because I don’t have any confidence that you won’t put them back on”, adding: “I then have to follow you.”

‘Impossible position’

The Campaign Against Antisemitism has called for Sir Mark to quit, arguing that his failure to take a tougher stance on the protests had put front-line officers in an “impossible position”.

A spokesman for the group told the Daily Mail: “Sir Mark Rowley is scrambling to save his job. ‘The time for meetings has passed. We need a new commissioner who understands that the job of the police is to arrest criminals, not their targets.”

Jonathan Turner, chief executive of UK Lawyers for Israel, told the newspaper: “I think Mark Rowley should go. He has lost the confidence of a large part of the Jewish community.”

Sir Mark also faced criticism from Rick Prior, the head of the Metropolitan Police Federation, who told The Telegraph “a more robust policing of these protests would be beneficial”.

Ms Coutinho, the Energy Secretary and a close ally of Mr Sunak, conspicuously refused to say that the commissioner should stay in post when questioned by broadcasters on Sunday.

She described the Met’s behaviour as “completely wrong” and, when asked about his future, said “conversations need to take place” with Mr Cleverly.

Her remarks came after Mr Dowden suggested in an interview with The Telegraph that the Met had been showing “disrespect” to Jews.

Suella Braverman, the former home secretary, also used an article for The Telegraph to call for Sir Mark to quit “after such a litany of failure and a wholesale refusal to change”.

Sir Mark was defended by Shabana Mahmood, Labour’s shadow justice secretary, who said that his resignation was not “the way forward”.

“I can understand the strength of feeling. That footage was very concerning, and I can understand where Mr Falter is coming from,” she said.

In a statement, the Met said: “We remain focused on doing everything possible to ensure Jewish Londoners feel safe in this city. We know recent events and some of our recent actions have contributed to concerns felt by many.”

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