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Boris Johnson Spent £200,000 On Water Cannon He Can't Use

The mayor of London spent hundreds of thousands of pounds buying water cannon to deploy at public order events in the capital. Now he's been told he can't use them.

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Home secretary Theresa May has refused to allow the Metropolitan police to use water cannon, despite London mayor Boris Johnson having spent over £200,000 on buying the vehicles.

Wikipedia Commons / Klaus Gaeth

May said she has spent the last year considering a formal request from Johnson's office that the Met should be allowed to use the water cannon at major protests and moments of public disorder.

After reviewing large amounts of evidence from medical and policing experts, May decided that the law should not be changed, she told the House of Commons. As a result, the three water cannon bought by Johnson in hopes of a change in the law cannot be deployed on the streets of London.

In particular, May said, she was concerned about the health risks of firing high-powered jets of water into crowds. She raised one particular case: "In Stuttgart a 66-year-old protester was completely blinded during a protest by a similar model of water cannon."

She also raised concerns about the quality of the second-hand water cannon purchased by the mayor and said they would need 67 major changes to be made functional: "They are 25 years old and have required significant alterations and repairs to meet the necessary standards."

Water cannon have always been banned from UK streets, aside from Northern Ireland.

May insisted this should continue, saying: "This country has a proud history of policing by consent and this is a decision that goes to its very heart."

Last year Johnson took the decision to buy three water cannon from the German police without clearing their use with the Home Office.


Johnson, who has personally lobbied for the use of water cannon to be allowed on London streets, spent £217,300 buying three second-hand Wasserwerfer vehicles that were being phased out by the German authorities.

Responding to May's decision, Johnson said his decision to buy the water cannon had enjoyed the "strong support" of the prime minister and that it had been an opportunity to buy the vehicles at a knock-down rate.

The Metropolitan police insisted the cannon would help them control crowds and maintain public order in the event of a repeat of the 2011 London riots. At the time Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, commissioner of the Met, said the water cannon would be "rarely used and rarely seen".

Jim Waterson is a politics editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Jim Waterson at

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