In this week’s Spectator, I’ve wrestled with the question of whether the Metropolitan Police should have arrested Tommy Robinson at Sunday’s March Against Antisemitism. Here’s an extract:
My gut says it was an abuse of police powers. Section 35 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 empowers the police to order someone to leave an area if they have reasonable grounds to suspect that the behaviour of the person has contributed to, or is likely to contribute to, people in the locality feeling harassed, alarmed or distressed. The organisers of Sunday’s march – the Campaign Against Antisemitism – had made it clear in advance that Robinson wasn’t welcome, so it’s safe to assume that they at any rate felt alarmed when he showed up. The police say they only arrested him after he repeatedly refused to go quietly, and failing to comply with a s.35 dispersal request is an offence.
But do the organisers of a public protest have a right to stipulate in advance who cannot attend and expect the police to remove them if they do? Section 36 of the same Act says that when deciding whether to issue such a directive, the police must have ‘particular regard to the rights of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly’ as set out in Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights. What if the organisers had said they didn’t want the journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown there because she once described Israel as ‘more wicked and dangerous than Hamas’? I doubt the police would have arrested her. Indeed, the heavy-handed treatment of Robinson, who’s a supporter of Israel, in contrast to the lenience shown by the Met towards those on the other side, gives an impression of double standards.
To add to the case for the defence, Robinson maintains he was there in his capacity as a journalist for a news publishing site called Urban Scoop and was carrying out a paid assignment. Section 36 says a constable may not give a direction under s.35 if the person is ‘required to attend for the purposes of the person’s employment, or a contract of services to which the person is a party’.
I go on to make the case for the prosecution, but conclude the Met should have shown him the same latitude they extend to the more outspoken pro-Palestinian protestors. The police’s heavy handed treatment of Robinson, while turning a blind eye to extremists much more likely to cause harassment, alarm and distress every Saturday in London, contributes to the impression of double standards.
Worth reading in full.