Police fall foul of human rights

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Police unlawfully used the centuries-old law of breach of the peace against three anti-arms-sales demonstrators, the European Commission of Human Rights said yesterday in a test case on the right to legitimate protest.

Andrea Needham, David Polden and Christopher Cole had been handing out leaflets and holding up banners outside a conference on fighter helicopters in London, in January 1994. Their arrest and detention for seven hours, without charge, violated the free speech guarantee in article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights, the commission ruled. Liberty, the civil rights organisation, said it would pursue the case to the full court in Strasbourg to ensure that UK law was changed.