Everywhere I hear the sound of marching, charging feet…

The ugly face of a Section 2 Public Order offence and imminent criminal damage outside The Ritz (Image from BBC/Reuters)

After London played host to as many as five hundred thousand peaceful protesters and a handful of violent-minded thugs on March 26th, there have been various reports that the Met Police have made a number of arrests for ‘public order’ offences. Both the BBC and Guardian have carried stories referencing these mysterious crimes and after asking a few non-police friends what they thought a public order offence might be, I have realised that the Public Order Act is perhaps not one of the better known statutes we have on the books. In this post I’ll attempt to clarify in as few words as possible, what exactly is a ‘public order’ offence?

To help with my explanation I’m going to recruit the help of ‘Billy’, a rather unpleasant young man under the influence of one too man pints of shandy who is currently sauntering his way through a busy town center near you. Billy’s about to commit a whole range of public order offences, here’s how he’s going to do it -

  • To get himself started he yells at no one in particular an expletive much worse than “Screw!”. Billy has now committed a Section 5 Public Order offence.
  • Not content with this, Billy picks out an unfortunate member of the public and screams at her “Screw you!”. As his expletives are intentionally directed at someone, Billy has now committed a Section 4A Public Order Offence.
  • Billy’s only just getting started though. Picking up courage he now shouts “Screw you, I’ll punch your lights out!”. Having added a threat of violence, Billy has moved another notch up the ladder to a Section 4 Public Order offence.
  • Any reasonable criminal – if such a thing exists – would have had his fill now but sadly not Billy. He screams again “Screw you, I’ll punch your lights out!” but this time raises his fists at the now very alarmed and distressed member of the public. Having taken his actions beyond words alone, Billy has now committed a Section 3 Public Order offence. This is also known as an affray.
  • As a final insult, Billy recruits two friends and all begin yelling at Billy’s chosen target, threatening violence and brandishing their clenched fists as they do so. As there are now three people present Billy and his friends are all guilty of an offence against Section 2 of the Public Order Act – violent disorder.

Public order offences are well summed up by the Act itself which refers to a public order offence as an act employing threatening, abuse or insulting words, behaviour or displaying writing of such a nature that is likely to be seen or heard by anyone and to cause them to suffer harassment, alarm or distress. These offences can occur anywhere with the exception of S. 5 through to S. 4 which can’t be committed if both offender and victim are inside a dwelling.

Due to their scope, public order offences can be incredibly useful in dealing with a wide variety of anti-social behaviour issues encountered not only on demonstrations but in the streets and in town centers on busy nights. It is owing to their flexibility that I imagine the police in London have opted to make many of their arrests under the Public Order Act and they often stand a good chance of successful convictions in court.

Hopefully this condensed summary of public order has lent a little clarity to the topic. There are all sorts of clauses and fine details contained in the Act not mentioned here for fear of muddying the waters but are available to read in the legislation if you’re sufficiently curious. On a final note, for anyone wondering what happened to Billy and his mates, I am confident that they are now sitting in the cells thoroughly regretting their actions and hoping that the judge won’t be too harsh on them in court.

As ever feedback is appreciated and the first person to post as a reply the correct name of the artist and song from this blog’s title will receive an approving nod from myself.

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11 Responses to “Everywhere I hear the sound of marching, charging feet…”

  1. 1 Rich 27/03/2011 at 16:37

    Rod Stewart, street fighting man. A very interesting post, again. Good work. But in the context of what happened in London, does this not demonstrate an issue? The anarchists in London, fighting globalisation, a one world mentality, interference from the state and big brother culture (amongst many more decisions based on their political and worldly views) don’t grasp “public order” – the very provocation for their physical action is based around a complete contempt for what may be classified as “public order”. For “everyday” issues surrounding alcohol induced offenses, night clubs, then the public order act is appropriate. However, is it not useless when dealing with the anarchists in London, when the differing opinions on what is “order” vary so wildly? Albeit, one of those definitions is legally enforceable?

  2. 2 theplastichippo 27/03/2011 at 17:37

    Top post, Richard. Informative and entertaining. Can I have an approving nod for correcting Rich in identifying The Stones and not Rod Stewart as the originators of Street Fighting Man?

    Can I also have an “Ello, ello, ello” for naming Bruce Springsteen, the Beatles, Elbow and the Beatles again?

    And I think I deserve a “What`s all this then” for naming John Martyn as covering the traditional Spencer the Rover.

    Keep up the good work.

  3. 4 morgan 05/04/2011 at 07:02

    What has confused me a few times is on these police shows when someone is getting a bit lairy (not sure how else to explain it) and through the conversation the policeman has sworn, but when the lairy nutter swears they seem to use it as an excuse to arrest them.

  1. 1 Watching the people get lairy, it’s not very pretty I tell thee… « PC Richard Stanley Trackback on 08/08/2011 at 19:25
  2. 2 These are my twisted words… « PC Richard Stanley Trackback on 21/12/2011 at 18:19
  3. 3 You want me? Well come on and break the door down… « PC Richard Stanley Trackback on 10/02/2012 at 13:08
  4. 4 Maybe she’ll pick him out again… « PC Richard Stanley Trackback on 27/03/2012 at 07:32
  5. 5 Words we never say… « PC Richard Stanley Trackback on 13/07/2012 at 19:29
  6. 6 Words they meant nothing, so you can’t hurt me… « PC Richard Stanley Trackback on 16/01/2013 at 18:00
  7. 7 Wolf at the door… | PC Richard Stanley Trackback on 18/11/2013 at 18:28

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