Thursday, October 13, 2011

Police State UK: May seeks stronger police riot powers

Home secretary wants curfews to create 'no-go' areas during serious outbreaks of disorder

The home secretary, Theresa May, is to press ahead with seeking public order curfew powers for the police to create "no-go" areas during riots.

The powers are expected to include immediate curfews over large areas to tackle the kind of fast-moving disturbances that swept across many of England's major cities in August. May also wants to extend existing powers to impose curfews on individuals.

The launch of official consultation on wider public order powers is being announced as May and Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, host an international forum on gangs with experts from six countries. They include Bill Bratton, the retired US police chief.

The consultation paper includes stronger police powers to order protesters and rioters to remove face masks. The home secretary first suggested this in March after the anti-cuts march in London in which 56 police officers were injured.

May said in August that existing dispersal orders, which have to be applied for in advance, were no longer adequate to meet the fast-moving nature of modern public disorder. Human rights groups predicted that blanket curfews would prove ineffective in a riot situation and criticised the idea as a "headline-grabbing initiative".

The consultation will look at repealing section 5 of the 1986 Public Order Act, which outlaws "insulting words or behaviour". There are claims the provision hampers free speech and it has been the subject of a strong Liberal Democrat campaign. Parliament's joint human rights committee has called for the removal of the word "insulting" to raise the threshold of the offence, citing a case in which a teenager was arrested for calling Scientology a cult.

Those supporting the reform say it would still cover threatening, abusive or disorderly behavour. Evangelical Christians have complained about the use of section 5 to fine street preachers who proclaim that homosexuality is sinful or immoral.

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