Liverpool 29th November – Merseyside Police Disperse Antifascists Using New Special Powers Unfairly and Unnecessarily

Dispersal Order Notice

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A couple of weeks ago Liveraf received reports that the National Front had announced a day of action in the City Centre for Saturday November 29th. For those not familiar with the term, day of action, in far right terms usually means distributing leaflets whilst verbally abusing and harassing, and sometimes causing physical violence, to anyone they don’t like.

We were sceptical because we know perfectly well that Liverpool NF does not have the resources to mount anything like that. Nevertheless, the word went round the Merseyside left, a peaceful counter-demonstration was called, and we duly attended. If nothing else, it would show the far right that we have the necessary resources to counter them, should they decide on such a foolish tactic in the future.

I turned up to find that several groups of people, probably numbering around fifty in total, had already arrived.

Let me say this loud and clear, and let there be no mistake. The people who had assembled were entirely peaceful. They had no banners, no flags, no megaphones and no leaflets. There were no shouts, there was no singing, and there were no chants. The protestors in fact were entirely undistinguishable from most of the shoppers who were in town on that day.

Almost immediately, we found ourselves confronted by a large task force of police officers wearing body armour and using more cameras than you could probably have found at an Earls Court exhibition. They told us that, under powers granted to them by the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, we were being ordered to disperse.

They then proceeded to film the entire group at close range and to hand out dispersal orders to everyone present. One of the first recipients was a man in his mid seventies with a serious heart condition. When he asked why the order was being served, the issuing officer told him “We believe that you belong to a group that is likely to cause members of the public to be harassed, alarmed or distressed”. The officer refused to name the said group, and poor old Sam still doesn’t know which of his political allegiances – if any – led to his being excluded.

A dispersal order is a legal device aimed, as far as we can make out, at anti-social individuals. Under the terms of the above act, people served with such an order have to remove themselves from a specified zone, in this case, the entire city centre, for a period specified by the authorisation officer. The order can run for a maximum of forty-eight hours and, strangely, that is the period for which we were banned.

Given that the legislation only came into being in March of this year, and had probably never been used to disperse a political demonstration in Liverpool before, that in itself is quite surprising. But there’s more to follow.

Firstly, Section 35 of the Act says that an officer, specifically a constable, may issue such an order if s/he

“has reasonable grounds to suspect that the behaviour of the person in the locality has contributed or is likely to contribute to –

(a) members of the public in the locality being harassed, alarmed or distressed, or

(b) the occurrence in the locality of crime or disorder.”

In other words, the decision to issue the order rests solely on the behaviour of the individual before it is issued. The possibility that said individual might go on to do something subsequently is of no consequence as far as the issuing of the order is concerned. Since not one member of the group had done anything untoward or illegal, that power was used inappropriately and illegally.

Secondly, we’re talking about individuals. The act does not empower the police to disperse entire groups indiscriminately.

Thirdly, you may have noticed that, in the midst of this debacle, the National Front never showed up. We know this because we had scouts out looking for them. In other words their announcement was a hoax. That is hardly surprising, but why did Merseyside Police treat it with such seriousness?

Liveraf, in co-ordination with other sections of the Merseyside left, is currently investigating these issues and considering where we go from here. However, it is difficult not to reach the conclusion that the whole thing was a stitch up. Indeed, there are those who think that someone high up in Merseyside Police, anxious to try out his new toy, got in touch with his mates in the National Front and asked them to announce something they knew we couldn’t resist opposing – a day of harassment towards anyone who looks different, or who has different coloured skin, or who has a “strange” accent, or who worships in a way which the myopic, bigoted, narrow minded scum of the far right find offensive.

I have already mentioned that these orders appear to have been issued illegally, and we shall certainly be taking legal advice on that score. What’s more they almost certainly breach the European Convention on Human Rights, because they interfere with people’s rights to peaceful protest. That is something else we’ll be investigating.

Further developments will be reported on this site as they happen, but we clearly cannot leave things as they stand. What happened on Saturday was a warning – and a wake up call – to everybody who believes in the right to demonstrate peacefully over any cause whatsoever.

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