New laws to remove masks and impose curfews considered

Police could be given more powers to demand face masks are removed and to impose curfews in the wake of this summer’s riots under plans being considered by the Home Secretary.

Theresa May yesterday launched a consultation to ensure police have the powers they need to tackle disturbances as she hosted an international conference on gangs at the Home Office.

The proposals to expand the powers available to police were first outlined by the Prime Minister after he recalled Parliament at the height of the riots in August. Mrs May is understood to have spoken to forces about the powers and the consultation will seek the public’s views to ensure traditional British freedoms are not being compromised.

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The consultation will also consider the future of the offence of using insulting words in Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 amid concern it is being used to undermine free speech.

Politicians, including Tory MP Edward Leigh, want it scrapped, highlighting how protesters have been threatened with prosecution for calling scientology a “cult”, and saying the law should not criminalise insults.

But Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said: “The police need strong powers to deal with disorder, but this consultation won’t make any difference if there aren’t enough police. As long as she is cutting 16,000 police officers and weakening police powers on DNA and CCTV, the reality is she is undermining the fight against crime and disorder.”

Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, said: “David Cameron was absolutely right to argue that society is broken. He is absolutely wrong if he thinks a more authoritarian approach is part of the solution to fix it.

And Isabella Sankey, director of policy for civil rights group Liberty, said: “After years of ‘something must be done’ legislation, the police are hardly short of coercive powers.”