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 (FOI) request by the Countryside Alliance show that only Derbyshire Police has used the law to unmask hunt saboteurs, while it has been used by 10 other police forces to force political protestors and football supporters to remove face coverings.
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.
FOI 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: “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.”
He added: “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.”