New research by the Countryside Alliance shows police powers to remove face coverings from hunt saboteurs are not being used by Humberside Police.
A Freedom of Information (FOI) request by the Countryside Alliance has shown that the existing powers have not been used by Humberside Police in the past three years, despite numerous incidents of hunt saboteurs wearing balaclavas and other face coverings to break the law without fear of being identified.
FOI requests were sent to all 43 police forces in England and Wales. The responses show that the vast majority of police forces have never used the powers. 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.
However, the FOI results reveal 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.
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.
Conservative MP, Sir Edward Garnier (Harborough), has tabled an amendment to the Bill which would enable police officers to remove face coverings without the need for prior authorisation from a senior officer, which they currently require. The amendment would make the powers to remove face coverings similar to the powers of arrest, giving officers on the ground more options for tackling violence and intimidation.
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, making prosecution unlikely, and 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 email@example.com