Blunkett legislates to silence lone protester at Westminster

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Indy Politics

His home is a roll of green plastic sheeting, his possessions no more than necessary to make coffee, keep warm and roll the occasional cigarette.

His home is a roll of green plastic sheeting, his possessions no more than necessary to make coffee, keep warm and roll the occasional cigarette.

Approaching his fourth winter on Parliament Green, few passers-by even notice Brian Haw and his collection of anti-war posters.

For ministers, however, the 55-year-old peace protester is about to become Britain's most wanted man, the first target of new legislation to crack down on organised crime.

David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, will announce next week he is to outlaw "permanent encampments" outside Parliament as well as the use of megaphones. The measure will be included in legislation establishing the Serious Organised Crime Agency, the FBI-style body that ministers say is needed to fight gangsters.

Ministers have been forced to pass a specific law against Mr Haw's activities as a desperate last resort.

Westminster Council was first to try to evict him, but its injunction was thrown out by a judge who ruled that the peace protester was not an obstruction.

The Speaker, driven to distraction by Mr Haw's amplified harangues, inspired an effort to search Parliament's own "sessional orders" to see whether they provided legal authority to evict him.

However, in May the Commons Procedure Committee was forced to admit that Mr Haw's rights to protest could not be over-ridden by medieval statutes guaranteeing MPs safe passage in the streets of Westminster.

Sir George Young, the Tory MP for Hampshire North West, has led the charge against Mr Haw, accusing ministers of an "inexcusable paralysis" for failing to get rid of him earlier.

In a Commons debate in May he said that terrorists could hide behind the peace protester's banners and "pick us off as we arrive at or leave the House". No other democracy would allow "this shanty town" in the middle of the its capital, he said.

Mr Blunkett agrees. He has decided to take the matter on with an amendment to the Serious Organised Crime Bill to be unveiled in the Queen's Speech next month.

"David's just decided that enough is enough and that something has got to be done," said one senior government source last night.

Mr Haw was defiant when told the news of his imminent criminalisation yesterday. "It's my right to be here. It is my life to be here ... all the lords and ladies opposite bleating away as if I had found a loophole in the law that entitles me to be here. Yes. It is called the Human Rights Act."

Mr Haw, born in Woodford in Essex, lives off what sympathisers provide him with and appears to have weathered the months of basic survival fairly well.

The response to his megaphone sloganising is mixed, he says. "I've had Americans crying as they stand here reading the posters, and then there are the bad Americans. They're the ones who walk by with their fingers in the air."