Face Coverings and Balaclavas
I am often contacted about concerns over anti-hunt or anti-fracking protestors or the people they are protesting against, wearing balaclavas and facemasks. I am also asked why Dorset Police cannot issue a blanket ban on all face coverings at events.
It’s important to recognise from the outset that the policing of these issues is operational and therefore the remit of the Chief Constable. I have, however, worked with Dorset Police to ensure that the policy surrounding face coverings is fit for purpose and reflects the national position. This is important as no Force, to my knowledge, has assumed a blanket authority in relation to face coverings.
I share concerns about the wearing of balaclavas and facemasks when used to intimidate or hide an identity. However, the demand for equal rights has always been central to this debate. Either everyone has the right to mask their face or no one has, whether they are hunt supporters, hunt protesters, for or against anti-fracking or attending any other protest. A blanket ban under the current laws of the UK would be unworkable.
Interestingly, the approach to this issue also varies across the world. In France, a new law in 2010 resulted in a ban on the wearing of face-covering headgear in public places, except under specified circumstances. In Denmark, the wearing of masks at a protest is illegal, and in many US states there are anti-mask laws – this issue is a sensitive one which polarises views.
I welcome the debate on this important issue but I must be clear that, whilst I will not shy away from tackling difficult ethical issues, and I will try and play my part in seeking clearer national guidance on the wearing of face coverings, this is essentially a matter for Government to resolve by changing legislation, and is not within the gift of individual PCCs.
I have lobbied all of our 8 Dorset MP’s in relation to this matter, asking for clearer legislation such as in Denmark.
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