Police will find it easier to unmask violent hunt saboteurs from now on thanks to new legislation.

The Policing and Crime Act 2017 was given royal assent to become law on 31 January and came into force yesterday (3 April).

The Act will make it simpler for officers to require violent protestors to remove facial coverings.

It enables police officers to require masked protestors to remove their disguises without first needing written permission from a senior officer. This makes the law simpler and less bureaucratic to use.

“There are only two reasons for wearing masks and face-coverings in the context of a protest: to intimidate and harass, and to hide identity with the intention of committing criminal offences and avoiding prosecution,” said Countryside Alliance chief executive Tim Bonner.

“This is a tactic that has worked, not only by creating alarm and distress in rural communities visited by groups of extremists who have adopted the uniform of the paramilitary complete with standard black face coverings, but also in allowing offences to be committed without any legal consequences.

“From Wiltshire to Derbyshire; from Gloucestershire to Yorkshire there have been a series of violent assaults by hunt saboteurs in the last few years, none of which have seen anyone brought to justice.

“It doesn’t matter if violence and intimidation are happening in urban areas or the countryside, it is wrong and it is only right that police officers are in the position to be able to tackle effectively potentially criminal behaviour wherever it arises.

“We are therefore delighted that the government has recognised the need to amend the law, recognising that the police need greater flexibility faced with modern types of protests.

“The amendment does not extend police powers, but makes it more practical to use existing powers and we now expect the police to make full use of them.

“For too long a small minority have hidden behind masks and disguises to intimidate people and to escape being held account for unlawful behaviour. This change in the law will discourage unlawful activity, while allowing lawful and peaceful protest.”

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The new ruling became part of the Act after it was introduced as an amendment during the Lords’ debate on the bill in December (news, 15 December).

Brandon Lewis MP, minister of state for policing, wrote to all police constables to make them aware of the change last month.

Freedom of Information Act requests by the Countryside Alliance published last year revealed the powers in place prior to the new Act had only been used once on animal rights activists at a hunt.

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