Opinion: ‘New Police Bill is not about vigils’

Peterborough’s MP Paul Bristow writes his regular column for the Peterborough Telegraph

Sunday, 21st March 2021, 5:03 am
A previous illegal encampment in Petereborough.
A previous illegal encampment in Petereborough.

Like most people, I was deeply concerned by the scenes at the Clapham vigil last weekend.

The police have an extremely difficult job during the pandemic. They have operational independence for good reasons. Nevertheless, male police officers dragging away women, who were protesting about male violence… it was uncomfortable.

Sarah Everard’s abduction and murder was particularly shocking to me because I know that part of London.

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Understandably, a lot of women felt it could easily have been them.

Both the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have asked the Metropolitan Police to justify why arrests were made, rather than allowing the crowd to disperse.

In my view, the Met have brought anger on themselves by the inconsistency with which they apply the law.

They danced with Extinction Rebellion protestors.

They stood by as thugs daubed the word ‘racist’ on Churchill’s statue. The coronavirus regulations didn’t seem to matter when they facilitated all manner of BLM protests, some of which turned exceptionally nasty.

Yet a small crowd of women with flowers and candles?

It’s no wonder the women gathered on Clapham Common felt they should get the benefit of police discretion. People who didn’t deserve it already had.

The coronavirus regulations remove all sorts of freedoms that we ordinarily have a right to expect. That’s why, thank goodness, these rules are temporary. Normality will be restored.

However, we didn’t live in a legal nirvana before the pandemic struck. When we get back to normal, some bits of our normal laws will still be in need of reform. That’s what the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is all about.

You wouldn’t think so listening to Peterborough’s Labour councillors, so let me explain what’s in it. This new Bill will:

- Make it a criminal offence for travellers to set up the unauthorised camps that we’ve seen across Peterborough.

- Increase sentences for attacks on our emergency workers.

- Introduce new sentences for defacing war memorials.

- Place a duty on authorities to work together to prevent and reduce serious violence, including violence against women.

- Introduce new powers and longer sentences for sexual offences.

- Extend the law on abusing positions of trust to roles like sports coaches.

- End the automatic release-point for serious sexual and violent offenders.

- Clamp down on demonstrations that cause deliberate chaos or destruction.

The last point relates to protests. You’ll notice that it has nothing to do with vigils in Clapham.

People would still be free to protest about anything they like, just not to glue themselves to airplanes, or block ambulances and printing presses.

This is entirely sensible stuff. Much of it was in the Conservative manifesto at the last election and there aren’t many people who would disagree.

Naturally, the Labour Party voted against all of it. In fact, their Peterborough councillors describe the Bill as “heading to a dictatorship”.

Labour have no regard for our city. They would leave war memorials vandalised, sex offenders on automatic release, and unauthorised caravans pitching up in our parks and communities.

Leave them to take a knee, but don’t forget what is happening. Peterborough can’t afford to let looney Labour take our Town Hall at the elections this May.