The Daily Mail would like you to believe rioters are walking free from court for refusing to give their names and addresses. They claim there has been a “mockery of justice” as the “riot suspects” were released.
However, the only mockery taking place is one of journalism.
The three people were among 50 arrested on the Million Mask march in November. And whilst the photos in the Mail show there was damage caused and clashes with the police, the people in question were not arrested for rioting or criminal damage, they were arrested under Section 50 of the Police Reform Act.
Section 50 gives the police the power to arrest someone if they refuse to give their name and address to the police, if the police have a reasonable suspicion they have committed antisocial behaviour. Whilst it is a criminal offence not to comply, it is only punishable by a fine – no custodial sentence can be given.
Protesters have long been critical of the use of Section 50 by the police given its use as a blanket power to collect personal details from people – details which can end up on a police file even when a person has not committed a criminal offence.
The Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol) who have been collating data on the use of Section 50 have criticised the use of these powers on demonstrations:
Any power which allows the police to ‘round up’ people engaged in political protest in order to demand their names and addresses under threat of arrest, is a serious and fundamental threat to civil rights and freedoms. Providing police with the ability to build personal profiles of political demonstrators is a dangerous step to take.
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According to Andy Meinke from the Legal Defence and Monitoring Group, who provide legal observers to monitor policing on protests, there has not been a test case on the use of Section 50. He asserts this is because the arresting officer would have to have a “reasonable suspicion” that a person has committed antisocial behaviour – in other words, acts which are likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress – actions which are covered by other public order legislation:
A stand alone case seems to invalidate the “reasonable belief” as if the constable had reasonable belief (a higher standard than the reasonable suspicion he would require to arrest for s5) why isn’t it being prosecuted?
Not co-operating with police tactics which repress civil liberties and the right to protest can be an effective tactic. Netpol claims that it is “almost always a very good idea for anyone to keep their name and address to themselves when dealing with police at demonstrations”. They also believe that:
The collective act of non-compliance is perhaps even more important. The more people resist it, the less workable the tactic becomes, and that has to be a good thing.
The three people arrested were ‘guilty’ of attending a demonstration, and refusing to give their details to the police when they were under no obligation to do so. There was no evidence they were involved in assaulting police, committing criminal damage, or any other act. They committed no criminal offence, and there was no suspicion they had committed antisocial behaviour. A spokesperson for the Crown Prosecution Service stated:
There was insufficient evidence that the police officers had reason to believe the defendants were acting in an anti-social manner so as to be able, in law, to demand their names. There was therefore insufficient evidence that the defendants had committed the offence by declining to give their names.
However, this has not stopped the Daily Mail labelling them as rioters or using this as an example of how the criminal justice system is failing. However, the only failure is in accountable honest journalism. Luckily, given those involved didn’t give their names, they haven’t had to bear the consequences to their private lives of unfounded allegations and lies.
Time and again, the tabloid press distorts, manipulates and twists the truth to enhance their right-wing political agenda. Every time this happens, it is important it is exposed. These papers have got away with peddling hate and ludicrous lies for far too long – it’s time they were held to account.
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