LONDON - Scotland Yard will consider asking the Home Secretary to ban further student marches, should the levels of violence which have marred recent protests continue, Britain's most senior police officer said yesterday.

More than 180 people have been arrested after four protests in London against the Government's proposal to increase student fees.

The most violent scenes were witnessed last week, when protesters clashed with police in Parliament Square. The clashes left 12 police and more than 40 protesters injured. The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall came under attack as they were driven to a charity event nearby.

Yesterday the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, spoke about a "sustained and serious level of violence". He said banning students from marching was a power he had not ruled out. "It is one of the tactics we will look at and something we will keep under review and if we think it is the right thing to do then we will do it," he said.

But he added that a ban could cause more trouble. Under the Public Order Act, the police can ask the Home Secretary to ban marches. "When you have got people willing to break the law in this way, what is the likelihood of them obeying an order not to march or complying with conditions on a demonstration?" Stephenson said. "Sometimes putting that power in could just be inflaming the situation."

The commissioner was worried that protests were "stripping London out". Almost 3000 officers are being deployed to police the protests and he said it was leaving neighbourhoods in other parts of London vulnerable.

On the suggestion that water cannons could be used to control crowds, Sir Paul said officers were taking advice from colleagues in Northern Ireland.

- Independent