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UK heading towards ‘paramilitary policing’, warns ex-police chief

Michael Barton, who was chief constable of Durham constabulary until 2019, has warned that Britain is heading towards a system of ‘paramilitary policing’ under controversial new measures proposed by the government.

The controversial legislation, which recently passed its first hurdle in House of Commons, would hand police greater power to implement conditions on non-violent protests, with convictions potentially leading to jail time. For example, demonstrators could be jailed for up to 10 years for causing ‘serious annoyance or inconvenience’.

Speaking to the Observer following controversial scenes at a protest in Bristol, Barton, the former head of national crime operations for policing, compared the UK government to ‘repressive regimes’ that exert power via their police.

He told the paper: “I’m not in favour of even more restrictive measures. Surely after a historically unprecedented year-long curfew, in peacetime, the government could show some common sense and gratitude for such incredible forbearance to allow civil liberties to once again flourish.

“Or are they happy to be linked to the repressive regimes currently flexing their muscles via their police forces? Fortunately, in the UK we are not a paramilitary-style police force. But these powers dangerously edge in that direction.

“Police chiefs will be seen as the arbiters of what is and is not allowed when it comes to protest. Democracies thrive on protest. This government has condemned what has happened in the Ukraine but those same protesters would fall foul of our new laws.”

Earlier in the month, the police faced heavy criticism over their heavy-handed response to a vigil to mourn Sarah Everard.

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