Published by Rachel Blundy at the London Evening Standard on 02/06/2014
A row over the decision to arrest a band hailed as London’s best buskers by Mayor Boris Johnson is raging on today after a community leader voiced his support for a police crackdown on busking.
Colin Bennett, chairman of the Leicester Square Association, has come out in support of police after last week’s arrest of the King’s Parade in Leicester Square.
The four-piece from Cricklewood were led away by officers last Wednesday as they came to the end of their set in front of a bewildered crowd.
They did not require a permit to perform but police arrested them under the terms of an archaic Metropolitan Police Act from 1839, claiming they were performing in order to earn cash from passers-by.
Mr Bennett has said that police were right to detain the musicians, adding that the authorities’ approach to buskers in the capital needed “managing”.
He said: “Entertainment is fine but it needs managing. At present it isn’t.
“Nobody wants draconian action, but without a clear policy in place, there is little left.”
Speaking about Mr Johnson’s ‘Back busking’ campaign, which aims to prevent parts of the city becoming ‘no-go areas’ for buskers, he said: “The Mayor’s busking campaign may be headline grabbing, but it lacks forethought, resulting in places like Leicester Square becoming unregulated free for all with the potential to project a poor image – not the world class destinations I’m sure he and we wish to convey.”
In response, band member Olly Corpe challenged Mr Bennett’s stance on the issue.
He told the Standard: “It seems Colin agrees with the Met’s decision to arrest us but wants busking to be managed – surely arresting buskers isn’t a good way of managing it?”
He continued: “He obviously hasn’t read up on the ‘Back busking’ campaign because the whole idea of it is to regulate and unify the busking rules around London, which is exactly what Colin is asking for.
“If he agrees with our arrest then he believes that all buskers in Leicester Square should be arrested as well. Considering our arrest took more than five hours, I’m wondering if Colin has considered the time and resources needed to do so.”
The band were released without charge but could still face a court summons.
Defending the arrest earlier this week, a spokesman for Scotland Yard said that “unlicensed street performing” contributed to “anti-social behaviour and is a driver of crime”.
In a statement, the Greater London Authority (GLA) said it was involved in discussions with police over the band’s arrest.
It said: “We were made aware of the arrests of the Kings Parade and note that they were released with no further action being taken. Since then we have been liaising with the Metropolitan Police to review what happened.
It added that representatives for the Mayor’s pro-busking campaign are set to meet next week.
It said: “The Mayor announced a high level taskforce in April, aimed at making London the most busking friendly city in the world. This is bringing together the police, boroughs and other organisations to develop a pan-London approach.”