Met only authorised baton rounds for black-led events

Brian Harris / Alamy Stock Photo

Baton rounds
The Metropolitan police approved their use at Notting Hill carnival and the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020

Reports Mark Wilding for Liberty Investigates and Vikram Dodd for the Guardian


The only events for which Metropolitan police chiefs authorised the potential use of baton rounds in the past six years were black-led gatherings, documents show.

The weapons, intended to be a less lethal alternative to regular firearms, have been cleared for use at Notting Hill carnival since 2017 and the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020.

Known as plastic bullets, baton rounds have never been fired during public order incidents on the British mainland, but have been used in Northern Ireland, where earlier versions of the weapons led to deaths.

The authorisation emerged in documents released after a freedom of information request by Liberty Investigates, the results of which were shared with the Guardian.

“The Met’s pre-authorisation of their use at Notting Hill and at Black Lives Matter protests smacks of racist decision-making.”

Oliver Feeley-Sprague, Amnesty International

Amnesty International said the decision to authorise their use was an example of institutional racism in the Met, which the force denies. A report by Louise Casey in March found the Met to be institutionally racist.

A spokesperson for London mayor, Sadiq Khan, who oversees the Met, said the revelation was “very concerning” and that he would seek answers from the force’s leaders.

The Met said: “It is inaccurate and irresponsible to imply the ethnicity of those likely to be involved in an event or protest influences the tactics considered.”

Britain’s biggest police force said the baton rounds were authorised for use at Notting Hill carnival and the BLM protests because of heightened fears of disorder.

Liberty Investigates submitted a request asking the Met whether police chiefs had approved the potential use of baton rounds – which are officially called attenuating energy projectiles [AEP] – before events from 2013 to the present.

The Met said it only held data from 2017 and added: “AEP have been made available as a tactical option by the assistant commissioner of MO (Met operations) for each Notting Hill carnival. It was also made available in 2020 for the Black Lives Matter protests.”

Oliver Feeley-Sprague from Amnesty International said: “The Met’s pre-authorisation of their use at Notting Hill and at Black Lives Matter protests smacks of racist decision-making from a force already notorious for its institutional racism.”

A spokesperson for the mayor said: “The approval of the tactical option of baton rounds in these events only is very concerning and the mayor will be raising this matter with senior Met leaders. The Met must account for their decision-making and black Londoners will rightly want to know that they are being treated equally.”

The Met said: “Any consideration given to the use of tactics such as baton rounds is about preventing loss of life, serious violence and serious disorder on the streets of London. Baton rounds have never been used by the Met in a public order situation.

“They have been authorised as a precaution in a very limited number of situations in recent years, including protests in central London in 2020 where serious violence was anticipated and occurred, resulting in significant injuries to more than 40 officers.

“Even during this scale of serious violence, baton rounds were not deployed, demonstrating the level of restraint operational commanders apply when considering their use.

“This tactic has also previously been authorised ahead of Notting Hill carnival due to significant intelligence suggesting serious violence would occur. Over the last five years, there has been a murder, 47 stabbings, 172 incidents of grievous bodily harm and 159 officers injured as a result of violence during this event.”

5,900 Number of baton rounds currently stockpiled by the Met Police

The Met said in 2022 that 74 officers were injured at Notting Hill carnival. An earlier FoI request showed that the Met recorded 60 injuries to officers.

The force said: “Only an assistant commissioner can authorise baton rounds as an available tactic. It is absolutely right this decision sits at this level of sign-off … It is purely a preparatory step.”

Explaining the authorisation before the BLM protests, the Met said: “Authorisation was given for baton rounds to be available to the overall policing commander, as a tactical option, between 12 June and 15 June.

“This was prompted by serious concerns about a further escalation in disorder, with large numbers of people anticipated and an indication that counter-protesters could travel to London, leading to potential confrontations between groups.”

Official guidance states that baton rounds should not be used on crowds, but against aggressive individuals.

Victor Olisa, a former Met chief superintendent, said other events during the period in question, some of which turned violent, were not assessed as potentially requiring baton rounds.

These included anti-lockdown protests, a gathering by the Democratic Football Lads Alliance in 2018, which turned violent, and a pro-Tommy Robinson rally.

Olisa, who was brought in after the 2011 riots to lead policing in the London borough of Haringey and is also Scotland Yard’s former head of diversity, said: “I can think of some far-right demonstrations where there has been violence and some football games where you know there will be violence.”

Olisa said firing the batons in relatively crowded streets at Notting Hill carnival would pose a risk to innocent bystanders.

As many as 17 people were killed and hundreds injured by baton rounds, made at first from rubber and later plastic, during the Troubles.

Figures released by the Met show that the force has spent more than £1.5m on the weapons over the past six years, stockpiling 5,900 rounds and training 700 officers in their use.

This article was published in partnership with the Guardian.