Sarah Everard: Fury at new anti-protests law giving police more powers

Ministers under fire over planned new anti-protests law that would allow police to intervene in any protest causing ‘serious unease’ and jail statue defacers for longer than rapists in the wake of fury at officers’ handling of the Sarah Everard vigil

  • The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will be debated tomorrow
  • Allows cops to intervene when protests cause ‘serious unease, alarm or distress’
  • Was created after a wave of Black Lives matter protests across the UK last year 
  • But would make statue defacement punishable by jail terms similar to rapists

Ministers were facing mounting fury today over a draconian new anti-protest law that would hand police greater powers to break up events like the Sarah Everard vigil.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will allow officers to intervene in events that are deemed to have caused ‘serious unease, alarm or distress’.

The new legislation, introduced in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests that swept the UK last summer, has also been attacked for bringing in jail terms for defacing statues that are on a par with those given to rapists and other sexual offenders.

Should the bill become law, defacing monuments will be punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The starting point for rape sentences is currently five years, rising to a life sentence for the most serious.

Safeguarding minister Victoria Atkins defended the bill today, insisting that it was designed to target ‘very, very disruptive protests’. 

But critics said that it would still give police forces far stronger powers than they currently possess to break up peaceful gatherings. 

Labour has said it will vote against the bill when it receives its second reading tomorrow. 

Shadow domestic violence minister Jess Phillips told Sky News’ Ridge on Sunday:  ‘The Labour party has come up with endless suggestions through the Domestic Abuse Bill, 37 amendments we put down that would make people safer and on Monday we will again be asking the government to look at things like misogyny as a hate crime, street harassment as a crime and increasing the tariffs on rape.

‘I am afraid to say that the Bill that is before us on Monday, in the explanatory notes which I read on Monday, there is more mention of statues than there is on women. 

‘Ten years for doing something to a statue, what about women?’ 

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will allow officers to intervene in events that are deemed to have caused ‘serious unease, alarm or distress’. Pictured: a woman being arrested at last night’s vigil on Clapham Common 

The new legislation, introduced in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests that swept the UK last summer, has also been attacked for bringing in jail terms for defacing statues that are on a par with those given to rapists and other sexual offenders

Shadow domestic violence minister Jess Phillips told Sky News’ Ridge on Sunday: ‘Ten years for doing something to a statue, what about women?’

Safeguarding minister Victoria Atkins defended the bill today, insisting that it was designed to target ‘very, very disruptive protests’

She later told  the Andrew Marr Show: ‘I think you should get more for rape than you do for defacing a statue… 

‘You currently can get more for fly-tipping than you can get for stalking. So I think in the case of stalking, I think that it needs to be doubled.’   

Calls for Cressida Dick to resign have been growing after police manhandled screaming women in extraordinary clashes with demonstrators at a vigil to mourn the death of Sarah Everard.

A crowd of around 1,500 people gathered at Clapham Common in south London to remember the 33-year-old marketing executive, but scuffles broke out as police surrounded a bandstand covered in flowers left in tribute.

Dozens of police officers had moved in on the bandstand at the vigil to block access to speakers sparked tensions in the crowd and mourners started chanting ‘arrest your own’ and ‘shame on you’ as scenes quickly turned violent.

Home Secretary Priti Patel has said she is seeking a ‘full report’ on events, describing footage from the vigil as ‘upsetting’, while Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey called on the Commissioner to ‘consider’ her leadership of the force, adding: ‘Cressida Dick has lost the confidence of the millions of women in London and should resign.’

The law is being introduced after a host of memorials and statues across the country have been damaged in the past year as a result of increasing tensions over Britain’s colonial history.

They included the statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square, and the new law would bar protests from outside the House of Parliament. 

But leading human rights lawyer Adam Wagner warned that the bill would make powers handed to police under Covid regulations permanent even after the lockdown is lifted.

He tweeted: ‘You may think the events of the past few days have shown beyond doubt that the police cannot be trusted to protect our free speech rights. Well, it’s about to get worse

‘The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill going through Parliament tomorrow would hugely expand their powers to allow them to stop protests which would cause ”serious unease” and create criminal penalties for people who cause ”serious annoyance”

Well-wishers gather beside floral tributes to honour murder victim Sarah Everard at the bandstand on Clapham Common today

‘This would effectively put the current situation where Covid regulations have given police too much power over our free speech rights on a permanent footing.’  

Ms Atkins defended the law on Marr today.

 ‘I do just want to draw a very firm distinction between the peaceful vigil that yesterday was intended to be and some of the very, very disruptive protests that we’ve seen in the last few years where people have been gluing themselves to buildings and gates and stopping members of the public from going about their business,’ she said.

‘There’s a real distinction here and the bill tomorrow is very much looking at that latter category to just make sure that the public order act is updated.’

But shadow justice secretary David Lammy said: ‘The tragic death of Sarah Everard has instigated a national demand for action to tackle violence against women.

‘This is no time to be rushing through poorly thought-out measures to impose disproportionate controls on free expression and the right to protest.’ 

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