Union lawyers accuse police of having double standards

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The Independent Online

Police have the power and the laws to break the petrol blockades but they did not have the political will to intervene, trade union lawyers said yesterday. Powers under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1994 could be used to arrest individuals unlawfully obstructing the highway, they said.

Police have the power and the laws to break the petrol blockades but they did not have the political will to intervene, trade union lawyers said yesterday. Powers under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1994 could be used to arrest individuals unlawfully obstructing the highway, they said.

Common law powers allow police to make arrests they believe necessary to prevent a breach of the peace. And under the Public Order Act 1986, the authorities can arrest protesters for threatening or abusive behaviour or harassment.

Trades union lawyers said police are showing double standards. "If this was picketing or a union-organised demonstration done in the same way, the police have shown in the past they are much more willing to exercise their powers," said Stephen Cavalier, head of employment law at Thompsons solicitors, which represents the majority of UK trades union. Greater Manchester Police said they would help the movement of fuel from suppliers to petrol stations "where it was required."

Assistant Chief Constable Meredydd Hughes said: "Suppliers and fuel contractors are free to move fuel if they choose to do so. The situation is that tanker drivers are making the decision not to move supplies after discussions with protesters." He said police would respect the protesters' right to peaceful protest and the oil companies' right to "freely go about their lawful business".

Oil companies are not taking any legal action against the protesters. Under civil law, it has proved almost impossible to successfully sue a loosely grouped collection of individuals in a political protest.

James Davies, a senior employment solicitor at law firm Lewis Silkin, said any injunctions against the protesters to try to free the drivers would almost certainly fail. "Even if the oil companies sue each and every farmer outside the depot others will come forward to take their place."

He added: "If they order their drivers to smash the blockades they could cause personal injury and find themselves being sued for huge damages by a protester who becomes a martyr to the cause."

The protesters must also be aware of the law. Not only will any action to block access to the highway be illegal, but because this is not an official trade dispute, the hauliers and farmers can not rely on the Trade Union and Labour Consolidation Act passed in 1992 which permits peaceful picketing.

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