Police to get new powers to arrest protesters wearing face coverings

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Police to get new powers to arrest protesters wearing face coverings

Proposed move follows warnings from police chiefs that some demonstrators are concealing their identities to intimidate and to avoid criminal convictions

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

People take part in a Palestine Solidarity Campaign demonstration near the Israeli Embassy, in Kensingston.
People take part in a Palestine Solidarity Campaign demonstration near the Israeli Embassy, in Kensingston.

Police will be given new powers to arrest protesters who wear face coverings to threaten others and avoid criminal prosecution.

In a further proposed move pyrotechnics will be banned at protests, under new laws to crack down on dangerous disorder.

The announcement will be greeted with anger by those who claim the government is infringing further on the democratic right to protest.

The move follows warnings from police chiefs that some protesters are using face coverings to conceal their identities, not only to intimidate the law-abiding majority, but also avoid criminal convictions.

Pro-Palestine demos in the aftermath of the 7 October Hamas terror atrocity have regularly seen activists conceal themselves with face coverings. Flares and pyrotechnics have also been frequently used at anti-Israel demos

While police in England and Wales already have powers to ask individuals to remove these at designated protests – where they believe criminality is likely to occur – this new offence will empower officers to arrest individuals who disregard their orders, with those who flout the rules facing a month behind bars and a £1,000 fine.

Flares and other pyrotechnics will also be banned from protests, and protesters will no longer be able to cite the right to protest as a reasonable excuse to get away with disruptive offences, such as blocking roads.

The new offence will make the possession of flares, fireworks and any other pyrotechnics at public processions and assemblies for protest illegal.

Perpetrators may be forced to pay a £1,000 fine.

The measures, which will be introduced in the Criminal Justice Bill, will also make climbing on war memorials a specific public order offence, carrying a three-month sentence and a £1,000 fine. This comes after recent incidents where individuals have broken away from large protests and scaled national monuments, demonstrating brazen disrespect to those who have given their lives for this country.

Alongside the new offences, the ability to use the right to protest as a reasonable or lawful excuse to commit some crimes would also be removed, ensuring that protest is not used as a defence for criminality such as obstructing public highways, locking on, as well as public nuisance.

Home Secretary James Cleverly said: “Recent protests have seen a small minority dedicated to causing damage and intimidating the law-abiding majority.

“The right to protest is paramount in our county, but taking flares to marches to cause damage and disruption is not protest, it is dangerous.

“That is why we are giving police the powers to prevent any of this criminality on our streets.”

National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Public Order, Chief Constable BJ Harrington said: “We welcome the proposal to create new offences relating to war memorials and flares, as well as making it clear that covering your face at a protest to conceal identity is not acceptable.

“These changes are in-line with conversations that we have had with the Home Office to ensure that we have the powers that we need to get balance right between the rights of those who wish to protest, and those impacted by them.

“Thankfully, the use of flares and pyrotechnics at public order events is rare, but they are still extremely dangerous. Safety is our number one concern when policing these events, and the effective banning of these items during protests can only help in our mission to ensure that they take place without anyone coming to any harm.

“As with all policing powers, these new powers will be used when appropriate, proportionate, and necessary to achieve policing objectives.

“Policing is not anti-protest, but there is a difference between protest and criminal activism, and we are committed to responding quickly and effectively to activists who deliberately disrupt people’s lives with reckless and criminal acts.”

The College of Policing’s Chief Constable, Andy Marsh, said: “I welcome the new offences this legislation will provide the officers who are policing protests and working hard, in complex environments, to keep people safe.”

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