Police powers to unmask violent hunt saboteurs have been used just once in the past three years, according to research by the Countryside Alliance (CA).

The organisation sent Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to all police forces in England and Wales.

It asked how many authorisations under Section 60AA of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act — which requires suspects of law breaking to remove disguises — were granted in each of the past three years.

Only 11 out of the 43 police forces were able to confirm they had used these powers in the last three years.

Out of these, only one force —Derbyshire Police — used the powers to police a hunt meeting where protesters wearing face coverings and balaclavas were present.

“In the past three years there have been a number of cases where hunt staff and supporters have been viciously attacked by animal rights activists wearing balaclavas, but no-one has ever been brought to justice for these crimes,” said the CA’s chief executive, Tim Bonner.

“Extremists know that wearing face coverings masks their identities and makes prosecution unlikely, and also that it intimidates those who they are protesting against.”

MPs are now pushing for the law to be made simpler to use.

An amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill, which is currently going through parliament, would make it easier for any police constable to require those they suspect of unlawful behaviour to remove items “concealing his identity”.

It has been tabled by Sir Edward Garnier, Tory MP for Hardborough, Oadby and Wigston.

“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,” added Mr Bonner.

“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.”