Riders wearing popular brands of hi-viz clothing that resemble police uniform could face prosecution, announced senior officers last week.
Police forces have been advised on the legal position, but independent lawyers think it is “very unlikely” that wearers would be taken to court. So where does this leave riders, manufacturers and retailers?
The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has issued guidance to manufacturers and forces, after receiving complaints by members of the public, who have mistaken riders for mounted police officers.
Assistant Chief Constable Rod Hansen, who is head of the mounted branch, said certain items of clothing had “caused concern to the police”.
Anything that gives the appearance of being police uniform based on the three characteristics of colour (yellow hi-viz), similar wording to police (in shape, format or font) and chequered banding (blue/silver) is at risk of breaking the law, he said.
The rider could be charged with the crime of impersonating a police officer.
“These complaints have been investigated and legal advice obtained. Anyone possessing such products is at risk of breaking the law, namely Section 90 of the Police Act 1996,” he added.
Equestrian lawyer Jacqui Fulton believes riders are unlikely to find themselves charged for wearing these products, but that many will nevertheless now feel uncomfortable wearing them.
“In reality, I think it is very unlikely that the court would prosecute a rider for wearing clothing with the intention of slowing drivers down,” she said.
“But they do have the ability to do so and riders should therefore be aware of that risk.”
For the past couple of years, the matter has been a “grey area”, said ACPO.
As a case has never come to court, there is no precedent as to what would happen.
Perhaps the best-known range of “police style” hi-viz clothing, featuring the word POLITE, was launched by Equisafety in November 2010.
It quickly proved popular with riders, as motorists mistook hackers for mounted police (news, 9 June 2011).
But now it is one of the companies that has come under fire. Equisafety told H&H it “strongly disagrees” with the police statement.
It is not the first time the POLITE range has come in for criticism.
In 2011, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) upheld a complaint against an Equisafety advert that said its Polite range had been “police consulted”.
Equisafety told the ASA it had not meant to imply that the police had approved its product, but agreed to take the wording off future adverts.
Fiona Kennedy of V-Bandz said her company withdrew products with chequered patterns the day after receiving the new police guidelines.
“We want to tell riders not to wear it — it’s our responsibility to act on the guidelines.
“We will be looking at alternative designs,” she said.
This news story was first published in the current issue of H&H (7 February 2013)