Police will get emergency powers to impose curfews and order people to remove their masks, under moves designed to prevent a repetition of the summer riots that hit London and other major cities.
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, announced plans to give senior officers the authority to order people off the streets if they suspect an area is about to be hit by violence. Officers on duty would also be able to tell potential trouble-makers to take off their face coverings without having to seek permission from senior ranks. The proposals, disclosed by Ms May as she hosted an international conference in London on combating gangs, follow widespread criticism of the police response to the disturbances in August.
The planned increase in police powers provoked protests from civil liberties groups, but ministers argued the moves were necessary because of the nature of the riots, which saw highly-mobile groups moving rapidly between areas. Ministers propose giving officers of the rank of superintendent and above the authority to declare a curfew; at the moment officers have the power to disperse crowds rather than prevent them from gathering in the first place.
A Home Office consultation paper published yesterday says a curfew could be "useful in stopping people travelling into an area to cause problems". Under the plans, it would be an offence to ignore an instruction to leave an area rather than being outdoors in a curfew zone.