Waltham Forest Echo

Waltham Forest Echo

‘Heavy-handed’ police used dogs to break up Walthamstow schoolchildren fight

The use of police dogs to break up a fight between Walthamstow schoolchildren has raised concerns about the Met’s “heavy-handedness”, [...]

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The fight took place outside Walthamstow Bus Station (James Cracknell)
By Waltham Forest Echo 07 October 2021

The use of police dogs to break up a fight between Walthamstow schoolchildren has raised concerns about the Met’s “heavy-handedness”, reports Victoria Munro.

Officers were called to reports of a fight outside Walthamstow Bus Station, which a local chief inspector described as “a large-scale melee brawl”, just before 4pm on 13th September.

Chief Inspector Michael O’Donoghue told members of Waltham Forest’s Safer Neighbourhoods Board last week that five officers were injured in the fight, including one hit on the head with a bottle.

However, at the meeting on 28th September, the leader of Waltham Forest Council’s youth engagement programme Streetbase suggested officers’ “heavy-handedness” escalated the incident, which involved girls as young as 13 and 14.

Streetbase leader Katy said her team spoke to young people following the fight and were told “police came in with dogs” to subdue the crowd.

She said: “We were wondering how that approach got addressed afterwards and, going forward, how we can avoid that. It seemed a bit of a panicked approach.”

While Katy described the fight as between schoolgirls, a Met Police spokesperson later described it as “between a large group of boys”, adding that there were five arrests.

Responding to Katy’s concerns, Chief Inspector O’Donoghue said the fight lasted 45 minutes and required “urgent assistance” from police teams “all over north London”.

He said: “A particular individual has got issues with some of the children at Holy Family [Catholic School in Walthamstow] and confronted people in the street when school was ending. There were three schools identified but it was predominantly Holy Family. 

“As a result, a fight kicked off and police were called. Five police officers were injured and two put in hospital, one after a bottle was broken over his head. People were concerned, alarmed and frightened… clearly something needed to be done.

“I take your point, I’m not saying police were not heavy-handed but we have to be very careful about pointing fingers around who’s responsible for this.”

However, Katy from Streetbase questioned whether the community’s fearful response could have been triggered by the presence of large numbers of police officers with dogs rather than “what was actually happening”.

Despite acknowledging he had not heard about the fight previously, committee member Philip Herelihy defended police, arguing measures used to “take effective control” are “not pretty”. 

He added: “It’s worth trying to be really analytical: what exactly did police do that’s heavy-handed? What should they have done instead?

“It’s an echo to me of complaints people have made about arrests, things are described as heavy-handed where actually it’s experienced police trying to avoid a worse situation.”

Chief Inspector O’Donoghue added that officers were looking for the person who provoked the fight, as his bail conditions forbid him from being anywhere near Walthamstow town centre.

Police met with the involved schools and local transport teams to discuss the incident last month and plan to meet again on 18th October.

Both Holy Family Catholic School and Streetbase declined to comment.