London police chief calls for clarity on handling extremism at protests

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s most senior police officer said on Sunday he would support a review into the legal definition of extremism in response to criticism of the way his officers handled pro-Palestinian protests in London.

Antisemitic and Islamophobic incidents have surged in Britain since a deadly rampage by Hamas gunmen in Israel on Oct. 7, and Israel’s retaliatory attacks on Gaza since then, with massive pro-Palestinian demonstrations held in London and other major UK cities, and vigils by Jewish groups in solidarity with hostages who were taken by the militants.

Some British politicians have criticised London’s police after they failed to arrest people at a pro-Palestinian rally shouting “jihad”. The police later said the phrase could have a number of meanings, concluding no offence had taken place.

Mark Rowley, head of London’s Metropolitan Police force, said his officers would “ruthlessly” arrest anyone who commits a hate crime, but there could only be prosecutions when the law is broken.

“There is scope to be much sharper in how we deal with extremism within this country,” he told Sky News. “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.”

Ministers are reviewing the legal definition of extremism in a move designed to counter hate crimes, including antisemitism, according to one government official. This work began with the attacks in Israel, the official said.

The government is also examining potential changes to terrorism legislation, The Sunday Telegraph reported.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, which is responsible for examining the legal definition of extremism, declined to comment.

(Reporting by Andrew MacAskill)