by Countryside Alliance

New research by the Countryside Alliance shows police powers to remove face coverings have only been used against hunt saboteurs once in the past three years – and the majority of forces have never used the power. Responses to a Freedom of Information request by the Countryside Alliance show that only Derbyshire Police has used the law to unmask hunt saboteurs, whilst it has been used by ten other police forces to force political protestors and football supporters to remove face coverings. Now MPs are pushing for the law to be made simpler to use.

Last year Police and Crime Commissioners and Chief Constables claimed that they were happy with the law as it stands despite a complicated process which requires written permission from a senior officer before police on the ground can require protestors to remove balaclavas and other face coverings.

Freedom of Information requests to all police forces in England and Wales have, however, revealed just one example of the powers under Section 60AA of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act being used against hunt saboteurs - by Derbyshire Police near Buxton in January 2014.

The powers have been used by 10 other police forces since 2013 in relation to football matches, far right marches and even a gay pride event, all in urban areas.

Now MPs are pushing for amendments to the Policing and Crime Bill to make it easier for the police to unmask potentially violent protestors in the countryside.

Tim Bonner, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, said: “In the past three years there have been a number of cases where hunt staff and supporters have been viciously attacked by animal rights activists wearing balaclavas, but no-one has ever been brought to justice for these crimes.

“Extremists know that wearing face coverings masks their identities and makes prosecution unlikely, and also that it intimidates those who they are protesting against. Yet the powers to remove face coverings have been used more often at football matches than they have at hunts.

“Police and Crime Commissioners and Chief Constables have assured us that the powers they have to unmask protestors are sufficient, yet in the entire country we can find just one example of those powers being used to unmask hunt saboteurs in the last three years. It is simply ridiculous that police officers at the scene of potentially violent disruption cannot order people to remove face coverings and identify themselves without the written permission of a senior officer.

“Individual police officers on the ground must have the authority to order the removal of face coverings exactly as they have the power of arrest.

“The Government has an opportunity to address this anomaly in the Policing and Crime Bill and we hope that it addresses this blight on so many rural communities.”

For more information, contact the Countryside Alliance press office on 0207 840 9220 or email press-office@countryside-alliance.org

Notes for editors

1) Report Stage & Third Reading of the Policing and Crime Bill will be on Tuesday 26thApril

2) Results of the FOI request:

• Two police forces have failed to provide a response to date (Manchester and Leicestershire).

• Out of the 41 police forces that have provided a response
- 26 police forces hold the information requested and were able to disclose it
- 15 police forces did not hold the information and were therefore unable to disclose it

• Out of the 26 police forces who disclosed the information
- 11 police forces have used the powers under section 60AA in the past three years (2013, 2014, 2015)
- 15 police forces have not used the powers under section 60AA in the past three years (2013, 2014, 2015)

• Out of the 11 police forces that have used the powers in the last three years only one police force (Derbyshire) has used the powers in relation to the policing of a hunt

3) Devon and Cornwall Police used Section 60AA powers 3 times to order removal of face coverings at Plymouth Argyle v Exeter City football matches, but have never used them against hunt saboteurs
4) Essex Police used the powers to order the removal of face coverings at an EDL march in Colchester in 2015, but have never used them against hunt saboteurs
5) Sussex Police used the powers to Brighton Pride event in 2014, but have never used them against hunt saboteurs

• For full FOI results, please get in touch.

• A number of violent attacks against hunt supporters and staff have taken place by masked saboteurs. No-one has been charged in relation to any of these attacks as no identification could be made of the masked thugs. The cases include:
o February 2016 – against Kim Robinson, gamekeeper on the Cubley Estate in Derbyshire
o January 2015 - against Tedworth hunt huntsman and master Mike Lane in Wilts

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