If I owned a front drive then on it I’d probably expect to see my car, some weeds and possibly next door’s cat.
An auto-mobile, dandelions and a feline are all perfectly acceptable things to have on a driveway and so wouldn’t cause the owner of said drive to phone the police, or at least if they did then attending officers wouldn’t be particularly impressed.
Replace the visiting cat with thirty demonstrators waving banners accompanied by an inflatable rat though and it’s a different story.
As you’ll probably have noticed in the news recently, this was the form a protest by Unite union members took during the course of the dispute over the closure of the Grangemouth refinery last month.
With industrial relations at a low point and job losses threatened, Unite members had turned up at the home address of one of the refinery bosses to show that they had “nowhere to hide”.
The PM described the union’s tactics as ‘shocking’ and now Bruce Carr QC is going to conduct an enquiry into the demonstration tactics used by the union and whether the law needs changing to prevent harassment and intimidation.
The inquiry I find interesting as I’d been wondering about the course of action I may have taken had I been one of the officers sent to attend the protest when it happened.
The right to peaceful protest is an important one – I’d describe it as a legal ‘biggie’ – and is rightfully protected in law as one of the basic human rights.
Infringements on the right to protest have to be very carefully considered and us police have a duty to ensure that people are able to hold demonstrations to uphold their views, even in cases such as BNP whose views and values the same officers will totally abhor.
Set against this though, the right to protest doesn’t equate to a right to bully and nor does it allow people the right to cause people fear and upset in their own homes.
The articles of the Human Rights Act 1998 set out the balancing act that needs to be achieved, it guarantees freedom of expression and at the same time, the right to respect for privacy and family life.
As such the first thing I’d have done on arrival would probably have been to grab my legal scales, throw on an Old Bailey-style dress and to think how to weigh up the two competing demands.
The decision I’d make would be based on the understanding that whilst the right to protest is important, I’d feel very uncomfortable should this right extend so far as to allow a ‘mob’ to descend on a person’s home and no doubt cause great distress to young children or other persons completely unconnected with the dispute who may be present.
Targeting a demonstration outside an office is one thing, taking a giant rat to someone’s front door quite another.
As such I’d be requesting the demonstrators dissipate which I’m sure they’d do peacefully, hopefully that could be considered the end of the matter.
As a bobby it can be tempting to look at such incidents in relation to what criminal action could be taken.
Due to the sensitivities outlined above I’d be reluctant to go down this route although for serious occurrences, such demonstrations may drift towards being considered to represent a public order offence or perhaps give grounds for an allegation of harassment.
Arguments over the public interest to bring about prosecutions and whether the protests were ‘reasonable’ would then invariably spring up left, right and centre.
It’s hard to judge how appropriate considering criminal charges would be when it comes to policing demonstrations such as that in Scotland, rather though it’d be much more preferable were the organisers of the demonstrations to conduct them in such a way that these questions need not be asked in the first place.