Top cop warns Boris Johnson about ‘horrific’ water cannon

Water cannon have a "horrific history" and would not even be considered for use in America, New York's police commissioner warned Boris Johnson today.

Asked about Johnson's plans to use water cannon on London's streets, Bill Bratton said their use had become an "anathema" in the US.

"Water cannon is not something we use in the United States," he told LBC during a visit by London's mayor to the city.

"Because of the horrific history of using water hoses during the civil rights era of the 1960s that's anathema that we just don't use or contemplate using anywhere in America."

Bratton's intervention could prove to be important. He is widely respected and was previously approached by the prime minister to become London's police commissioner. 

He was asked about the weapons following a decision last year by Johnson to buy three second hand water cannon from Germany, despite holding no license for their use.

The three cannon currently remain in storage at a secret location in London, due to the Home Secretary's apparent reluctance to approve their use.

The weapons are currently being phased out in Germany, where they also have a horrific history of inflicting serious injuries and death on protesters. One elderly German protester warned Britain against purchasing the weapons last year, after he was left blinded by a cannon during a protest in Stuttgart.

Dietrich Wagner's eyelids were torn and the bones around his eyes fractured by the blast. Officers who have used them before report that it is more a question of "luck not judgement" whether they hit their intended target.

Bratton is not the first person to warn Johnson against using the weapons. Conservative members of the London Assembly have previously joined cross party calls to ditch their use and a senior member of Johnson's team told Politics.co.uk last year that the mayor would "live to regret" purchasing them.

"I don't think there is an understanding of what a powerful weapon [water cannon] are," they said.

"It's like being hit with a baseball bat. I think he will live to regret it."

Johnson remains committed to using the weapons however. He told LBC today that: "there is a process to be gone through. She [May] is consulting various people. and I have no doubt whatever that were those water cannon necessary, in the vanishingly unlikely situation that we did need to use them, I have no doubt that a home secretary would supply a license."

However, it is looking increasingly likely that any approval will now only come after the general election if at all.

Johnson's opponents today urged him to drop his plans to use them.

"The American experience of water cannon has shown how dangerous and inappropriate their use can be," Labour's London Assembly crime spokesperson Joanne McCartney told Politics.co.uk.

"Boris Johnson would do well to heed Bill Bratton’s warning and drop his misguided plans to put water cannon on the capital’s streets."        

"The home decretary’s continued reluctance to approve their use suggests that she agrees that these kind of dangerous and blunt tools have no place on London’s streets. It’s time the mayor accepted he was wrong to waste millions of pounds of tax payer money on these water cannon and sold them so we can reinvest the money in things the Met actually needs."