Campaigners criticise new police powers

ZERO tolerance police tactics to tackle alcohol-related violence in west Suffolk have been branded “punishment without crime” by civil rights campaigners.

ZERO tolerance police tactics to tackle alcohol-related violence in west Suffolk have been branded “punishment without crime” by civil rights campaigners.

From Friday police in west Suffolk will be able to ban people either from a particular location or an entire town centre if officers think they might cause trouble.

The announcement by Suffolk police yesterday came as Dame Stella Rimington warned Britain was at risk of becoming a “police state”.

Police chiefs fear levels of alcohol and drugs related violence Bury St Edmunds, Sudbury, Mildenhall and Newmarket are creeping up and claim the new “Direction to Leave” notices will stop people causing trouble around pubs and clubs and make town centres safer.

But the campaign group Liberty claims the new measures represent a dangerous infringement on peoples' rights.

Anna Fairclough, legal officer at Liberty, said: “This is yet another example of 'cart before the horse' punishment without a crime.

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“The people of Suffolk may think these powers have nothing to do with them as they go about their business but experience teaches us otherwise.

“There is already a very worrying trend of police using these measures where it is clearly not warranted.”

Martin Gienke , Amnesty International human rights campaigner and Bury Unitarian Congregation lay leader, said the measures contravened human rights: “I would ask why normal processes of law which already exist, and which guarantee the rights to representation and evidence of a crime, cannot be applied to achieve the same result.”

But Bury MP David Ruffley, who is also the shadow policing minister, said he welcomed the police being given pre-emptive powers.

“In my view anti-social behaviour is the scourge of rural and semi-rural west Suffolk, which causes misery. I welcome their use and will look to see how they work.

“If they reduce this scourge I would give the police my backing to use these powers sensibly.”

Under the scheme, a member of the public can be banned from a venue or even the whole town for up to 48 hours. If they refuse to leave the area, or return during this time, they can be arrested. All the officer has to do is fill out a single page form, which is checked by senior officer.

Supt David Skevington, western area operations manager, said: “I am concerned that the levels of violence in a public place related to alcohol or drug consumption have risen in some parts of west Suffolk, and whilst in other areas there has been a reduction, this could still be improved upon.

“We have put additional officers into hotspot areas, to offer reassurance and to issue fixed penalty notices to stop trouble escalating - but now we have another tactic to allow officers to get tough on the minority of people who behave anti-socially and could go on to commit violent crime.”

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