Protests, marches and public demonstrations more than treble in year
- Credit: RACHEL EDGE
An increasing number of people took to the streets to support protests, marches and rallies last year, as the number of public demonstrations staged across Suffolk more than trebled.
Police were made aware of 20 public demonstrations across the county during 2019 - a more than three-fold increase on the six reported over the previous year.
Demonstrations included climate change protests, pro-EU rallies and public objections to planning proposals.
In Norfolk, demonstrations more than quadrupled from five to 22, according to Freedom of Information data.
An individual's right to freedom of expression and assembly is protected under the European Convention of Human Rights.
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Under the Public Order Act, police have the power to restrict or prohibit protests which risk serious disruption to public order, while offences like aggravated trespass and obstruction of a highway, and civil injunctions against events which cause harm or harassment, can also apply.
Current police guidance - updated following the 2009 G20 summit protests - advises officers to start from a presumption of peaceful protests, maintain open communication with protestors, and use force only as a last resort.
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Superintendent Matthew Rose, Head of Specialist Operations for Suffolk and Norfolk police, said: "Under the Public Order Act, anyone planning a moving demonstration needs to notify the police six days in advance.
"Even if it's not a moving demonstration, we would ask them to contact us for advice. We can put them in touch with key partners like the county council if there needs to be a road closure.
"In 2019, we formally deployed to five demonstrations. We often send one or two officers to support people in exercising their right to peaceful assembly. Not only are people entitled to do so, we have a responsibility to support their human rights.
"Mostly, our role is about advice and support to those wishing to demonstrate. The majority don't require any formal response.
"They vary from local demonstrations against infrastructure projects to more nationally prominent issues.
"All of the events we put resources to were policed by local officers, but we do have some officers specially trained to national standards.
"Police will intervene if there is any risk to public safety."