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Opportunity to Improve Police Powers to Remove Face Coverings

After many years of campaigning, Parliament has the opportunity to improve police powers to remove face coverings from protestors or saboteurs who break the law. Whilst we support the right to peaceful protest, there can be no reason why anyone engaged in lawful protest should be able to conceal their identity in an attempt to break the law without being identified.

The existing conditional powers, which require prior authorisation from a senior officer before they can be used, are according to a Countryside Alliance Freedom of Information request failing to protect rural communities. The law needs to give police officers on the ground greater flexibility so that these powers can be used effectively to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour wherever this takes place. We are therefore using the Government's Policing and Crime Bill to call for changes to the law that would make the powers relating to face coverings easier to use and fit for purpose in policing modern demonstrations.

Earlier this year, we submitted Freedom of Information requests to all police forces in England and Wales to find out how often the existing powers are being used. The responses revealed that only 11 out of 43 police forces were able to confirm that they had used the existing powers in the last three years. The vast majority of authorisations granted within these police forces were for demonstrations and protests taking place in towns and cities including football matches and political demonstrations. Only one police force, Derbyshire, used the existing powers to police a hunt meet where protestors wearing face coverings were present despite the fact that such demonstrations are common place in Derbyshire and across the country.

Conservative MP, Sir Edward Garnier (Harborough), has tabled an amendment to the Bill which will enable police officers to remove face coverings without the need for prior authorisation. The amendment will make the powers to remove face coverings similar to the powers of arrest, giving police officers on the ground more options for tackling crime and anti-social behaviour. The Bill is still progressing through Parliament and we are working with MPs and Peers to try and convince the Government to support this sensible change in the law.

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."

"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."

Lobby your MP

It is vital that this amendment has maximum support from MPs so please contact your local MP and ask them to support this change in the law. Follow the link HERE and enter your postcode to find the contact details for your local MP. In your email or letter you will need to include the following information:

  • Your full name and postcode.

  • State that you want them to support the amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill in the name of Sir Edward Garnier MP: "New Clause 23 – Powers to require removal of disguises".

  • State that this change in the law will help the police to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour in towns and the countryside.

  • Any personal experiences of violence and intimidation by protestors or saboteurs wearing face coverings.

If you require any further information please contact [email protected]

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