Nowadays no matter how peaceful your protests are, you are likely to come into contact with the police. This guide is an activist’s response to the NETCU Handbook, a guide to policing protest issued by the extremist political police unit NETCU (National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit).
The de-policing protest guide aims to equip you with information to counter the interpretation of the law by some of the particularly extreme police, who seek to protect corporate interests with unlawful orders and intimidation.
This guide will NOT necessarily avoid your arrest, but gives you some points of argument that may help you get cops to back off!
This guide is NOT legal advice or aimed at helping you to form a legal defense, but instead a guide to dealing with policing on the ground.
Note: More information will be added over time – this is in no way complete!
Things to take on all protests
- The NETCU Handbook
- Police Operational Handbook (See your local book shop)
- Video Camera and/or Phone with Video Camera
Playing the cops game … to win!
- Be ready to counter police interpretation of the law with your interpretation.
- Cops can and do lie. Video everything they say to you or other campaigners. Get badge numbers.
- Stay calm. It can be very hard, but you may have to play your footage in court at some point.
Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA) 2005 warning
Trespass and other civil offences have now been made crimes under the criminal law when done against animal research operations, please keep this in mind – but don’t let it bog you down!
Guides (more will be added over time):
- Private Property: “Quasi-public” areas
- Private Property & (Not So) Catch All Law: Breach of the Peace
- Private Property: Aggravated Trespass
- (Not So) Catch All Law: Obstruction of the Highway
- (Not So) Catch All Law: Harassment, Alarm, or Distress
Private Property: “Quasi-public” areas
The cop that arrives at the scene of your protest may tell you that you are trespassing. Cut through their rubbish with the magic words “Quasi-public” area!
“Quasi-public” areas are areas of private property that the public have an implied right of access to, such as supermarket car parks. You are not trespassing when you enter such areas. However, if asked to leave by the owner or someone representing him or her, you are required to leave under civil law. If you stay you are breaching civil law. It is not the cops job to arrest you for breach of the civil law, however they may remove you (also see Breach of the Peace, Aggravated Trespass).
Talking to Cops: When told you are trespassing, say that “This is a “Quasi-public” area i.e. private land that the public have an implied right of access to, we have not been asked to leave and therefore we have not committed the civil offense of trespass.” When the police get someone to ask you to leave, depending on how brave you feel, you can continue the discussion stating that the issue is a civil one and they do not have a power of arrest.
Private Property & (Not So) Catch All Law: Breach of the Peace
Breach of the Peace is a common law power that anyone can exercise (theoretically) and it is not a criminal offense. It’s not a catch-all way to get rid of pesky protesters no matter what that annoying police community support officer (PCSO) might tell you! The Court of Appeal defined a breach of the peace as being ‘an act done or threatened to be done which either actually harms a person, or in his presence, his property, or is likely to cause such harm being done’.
Breach of the Peace has been interpreted in court to mean that the cops can use this power in the removal of protesters from private property. This is because the breach of the owner’s ‘property rights’ could lead to them using force to remove the protesters!
Talking to Cops: Police often see Breach of the Peace as a catch-all law. When confronted by the police, explain that case law has defined Breach of the Peace as ‘an act done or threatened to be done which either actually harms a person, or in his presence, his property, or is likely to cause such harm being done’. Ask the officer how your actions are likely to cause a Breach of the Peace under such a definition. You can then argue (politely) any point they make.
Private Property: Aggravated Trespass
Section 68 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (as amended by Section 59 Anti-Social Behavior Act 2003)
The cops now use the offense of ‘aggravated trespass’ to arrest people trespassing to protest. This is not such a catch-all offence as you may think. To commit ‘aggravated trespass’, as well as being a trespasser (you may not be if you haven’t been asked to leave and you are in a “Quasi-public” area), you must be doing something “intentionally to intimidate” or “intentionally to obstruct” or “intentionally to disrupt” persons present on that land or adjoining land from engaging in any lawful activity. In addition, the court would need to find that you were aware that your actions could intimidate, obstruct or disrupt people. However they don’t need to show you actually wanted your actions to intimidate, obstruct or disrupt people.
Talking to Cops: Explain to the officer that “We are here to make a peaceful protest within our article 10 an 11 rights under the Human Rights Act. We do not intent to intimidate, obstruct or in anyway disrupt any person nor are we aware that our actions could have such an effect.” Where possible say that you are not trespassing in the first place (see “Quasi-public” areas).
(Not So) Catch All Law: Obstruction of the Highway
Willful Obstruction of the Highway – Section 137 of the Highways Act 1980
Cops and council busy bodies sometimes think they can get rid of ‘subversives’ from “their streets” by using the law prohibiting Obstruction of the Highway, as we all know these streets are “our streets”, so here is some guidance to set them straight!
Most protests, street stalls, etc cause some degree of obstruction of the highway but the law allows for lawful activities to cause a reasonable degree of obstruction. You have your rights under the Human Rights Act to fall back on. Section 10 (Freedom of expression) and Section 11 (Freedom of Assembly and Association) are great to bring up. Your copy of the NETCU handbook contains further notes from the cops point of view on page 57.
Talking to Cops: When told you must move because you are causing an obstruction and you believe your conduct is reasonable say “We are exercising our article 10 an 11 rights under the Human Rights Act. People are easily able to pass by and our conduct is reasonable under the circumstances. Therefore our assembly has an ‘lawful excuse’ under Section 137 of the Highways Act 1980 and we commit no offense.”
(Not so) Catch All Law: Harassment, Alarm or Distress
Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986
Some cops think Section 5 is a way of dealing with any animal rights activist that anyone happens to find annoying, however this is not within the powers of Section 5!
Police hope to distort the meaning of “harassment, alarm or distress” in order to use this law as a ‘catch all’ but let’s look closer at the law:
- A person is guilty of an offence if he—
- uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or
- displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.”
So even if it could be proved that your actions are likely to cause harassment or alarm or distress, they would also need to show that your actions or words were threatening or abusive or insulting or your behaviour was disorderly.
Note however they don’t actually need a complaint to prove this offense. But it is a defense to prove that you “had no reason to believe that there was any person within hearing or sight who was likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress”.
Talking to Cops: When told you may be committing an offense under Section 5 of the Public Order Act say: “My actions are not threatening, abusive or insulting nor is my behaviour disorderly, as you will know it is therefore not possible for me to be committing this offense. In addition I am not aware of anyone that is likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress by my actions.”
Fixed Penalty Notice
Cops are the judge and jury on the streets now (or like to think they are) after being given the power to issue fixed penalty notices for Section 5 offences. You don’t have to pay these notices if you challenge them in court and win. If you know of a cops intention to issue you with a fixed penalty notice and you plan to challenge it, if you feel the public spectacle of an arrest could help your protest on the day, you could consider withholding your details so you are arrested rather than just being issued with a ticket!
Special Note About Images
Some cops think it’s a good idea to use Section 5 to try and prevent the display of graphic animal rights posters. This, they will claim, is because they could cause someone “harassment, alarm or distress”; however, as you know, they will need to show that:
- your actions or words are threatening or abusive or insulting or that your behaviour is disorderly or,
- that you are displaying any writing, sign or other visible representation that is threatening or abusive or insulting
The FreeB.E.A.G.L.E.S. site, an old animal rights legal site, has more on this and states:
“In a recent animal rights case someone was arrested for Section 5 for holding up a poster of a disembowelled cat on a demo at Yamanouchi. The lawyer successfully argued that upsetting pictures are nowadays part of every day life. During cross-examination of the police, he asked whether the officer was planning to arrest the manager of WH Smith for displaying upsetting pictures of tortured Iraqis of newspapers on display in the shop to which the officer was unable to reply. The magistrates were convinced and acquitted the activist.”
What an awesome point!
Talking to Cops: When asked to put away images that may annoyed people, it is up to you if you decide to comply. If you decide not to comply, say “The signs on display are not threatening, abusive or insulting nor is my behaviour disorderly and therefore it is impossible for this offense to be committed. In addition I am not aware of anyone that is likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress by the signs nor are the signs more graphic than images on display on the front page of many newspapers.”
(Not So) Catch All Law: Harassment, Alarm or Distress
This guide is heavily based on the amazing website FreeB.E.A.G.L.E.S. It’s a great site but hasn’t been updated since 2005 so don’t rely on it.
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