R (Laporte) v Chief Constable of Gloucestershire Constabulary

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtHouse of Lords
Judgment Date13 December 2006
Neutral Citation[2006] UKHL 55
Date13 December 2006

[2006] UKHL 55


Appellate Committee

Lord Bingham of Cornhill

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

Lord Carswell

Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood

Lord Mance

R (on the application of Laporte) (FC)
(Original Appellant and Cross-respondent)
Chief Constable of Gloucestershire
(Original Respondent and Cross-appellant)

Original Appellant and Cross-respondent:

Ben Emmerson QC

Michael Fordham QC

(Instructed by Bindman & Partners)

Original Respondent and Cross-appellant:

Simon Freeland Q

Jeremy Johnson

(Instructed by Gloucestershire Constabulary Legal Services)


Edward Faulks QC and Simon Readhead QC (instructed by Thames Valley Police Legal Services) on behalf of The Chief Constable of the Thames Valley Police David Pannick QC, John Beggs and Amy Street (instructed by Director of Legal Services Metropolitan Police) on behalf of The Commissioner of the Police of the Metropolis Rabinder Singh QC and Jason Coppel on behalf of Liberty


My Lords,


This appeal by Jane Laporte and cross-appeal by the Chief Constable of Gloucestershire Constabulary (respectively "the claimant" and "the Chief Constable") raise important questions on the right of the private citizen to demonstrate against government policy and the powers of the police to curtail exercise of that right. The contentions of the claimant were supported in argument by Liberty, which was granted leave to intervene. The contentions of the Chief Constable were supported by the Chief Constable of the Thames Valley Police and the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, appearing as interested parties.

The facts


There has been no oral evidence and no cross-examination in this case, and the claimant has accepted that the Chief Constable's factual evidence must be treated as correct. There are some differences between the accounts of the parties, but the following summary is based on what is either agreed or otherwise appears to be true.


The claimant is a peace protester who in early 2003 was very strongly opposed to the waging of war against Iraq. She wished to protest against the policy and conduct of the United Kingdom and United States governments. It is not suggested that her conduct and intentions were at any time other than entirely peaceful.


The Chief Constable, as head of the Gloucestershire Constabulary, was the officer with overall responsibility for policing the demonstration with which this case is concerned. Among the officers acting subject to his overall direction and control was Chief Superintendent Lambert, a senior officer whose honesty is accepted and whose integrity and professional competence are not in doubt. Save where express reference is made to Mr Lambert, I shall use the title "Chief Constable" to cover officers of the Gloucestershire Constabulary.


Just outside the village of Fairford in Gloucestershire is a Royal Air Force base bearing its name. In early 2003 the base was heavily used by the United States Air Force. On 21 March, American B52 bombers began to fly from it on operational sorties against Iraq. The proposed use of RAF Fairford for hostile operations against Iraq was well known, and the base became a focus for protest against the war. A number of incidents occurred in the period December 2002-March 2003, during which holes were repeatedly made in the perimeter fence, which ran for over 13 miles, some of it through open farmland. In some places the fence was not secure. Acts of mass trespass took place. A peace camp was established. Trespassers entered a munitions storage area, damaged lights on the runway, lurked in the fuel dump area and caused extensive damage to vehicles. A person was found near the base with ingredients for a suspected incendiary device. On one occasion in February an otherwise peaceful protest was attended by a hard core activist anarchist group known as the Wombles (White Overalls Movement Building Libertarian Effective Struggles). This protest began peacefully, but led to serious disorder when the main gate of the base was forced open, and there was a major incursion into the base. During the period (and before 22 March 2003) around 50 arrests were made.


A protest group calling themselves Gloucestershire Weapons Inspectors, in conjunction with other anti-war groups, organised a protest demonstration to take place at RAF Fairford on Saturday 22 March 2003. Their theme was civilian weapons inspection and protesters were encouraged to dress up in symbolic white overalls. The demonstration was advertised by Gloucestershire Weapons Inspectors, CND, Bristol Stop the War Coalition, Disobedience Against War, and also the Wombles, who similarly wore white overalls. Various websites, including those of Gloucestershire Weapons Inspectors and the Wombles, advertised coaches available for transport to the base, from London and other places. The Wombles website on 11 March posted a message couched in violent terms. The claimant saw the Gloucestershire Weapons Inspectors' advert and booked a seat on one of three coaches which, in the event, set off from London to Fairford on 22 March.


The Chief Constable's officers were fully alive to the demonstration planned for 22 March and began to plan for it from early in the month. They sought to enable the protest to take place peacefully and to minimise the risk of serious public disorder. They had been advised by senior military authorities that there must be no more incursions into the base, and they appreciated the vulnerability of the long and insecure perimeter fence.


The Chief Constable had a power and duty under section 13 of the Public Order Act 1986 (see below, para 22), if certain conditions were fulfilled, to seek an order prohibiting all processions in the Fairford area for a period, but decided after consideration not to do so. Instead, the Chief Constable established a command structure of officers to control the event. On 17 March 2003, as required by section 11 of the 1986 Act, Gloucestershire Weapons Inspectors gave the Chief Constable written notification of their proposed demonstration, procession or march. The purpose was to protest against war in Iraq and the presence of bombers at RAF Fairford. Protesters would assemble at 12.00 in Fairford High Street, Mill Lane and Park Street. At 1.0 the protesters would march along Horcott Road to the main gate of the base. A petition was to be delivered and flowers laid. The rally at the main gate would last from 1.30 - 4.0 pm. There were to be several speakers. Numbers attending were estimated at 1000 - 5000. The Chief Constable in response issued a direction under section 12 of the Act, prescribing (in accordance with the notification) the time, place of assembly and procession route, prescribing where the procession route should end and drawing attention to the criminal offence of failing to comply with the conditions laid down. The Chief Constable promulgated several thousand leaflets, provided to websites advertising the event and (in due course) protesters, describing the arrangements and warning that those who deviated from the conditions (as by leaving the prescribed route) were liable to arrest. Attention was drawn to the danger of entering military premises. There were to be designated drop-off points, policed by officers, where protesters would get out of their vehicles. The Chief Constable formulated a detailed plan

"to control the march and protest from the initial assembly area directing march along the prescribed route as per the attached plan (highlighted) and allowing the protest to take place in the bell-mouth area of the gate, thereby giving them a point of focus. The protest will be allowed until a predetermined time when they will be encouraged to disperse. In order to ensure the protesters keep to the prescribed route, certain minor roads will be closed as per attached plan."

Protesters were to be escorted along the procession route by officers. Fencing and barriers were erected along this route and the bell-mouth area of the gate to the base was demarcated by concrete barriers and barbed wire. The Chief Constable's assessment was that the protesters on 22 March would include hard-line activists intent on violence and entry to the base. The policing operation was the largest ever undertaken by the Gloucestershire Constabulary. Police officers were mustered in large numbers, supported by anti-climbing teams, patrols on both sides of the perimeter fence, dog teams, a member of the Metropolitan Police Public Order Intelligence Unit (to recognise those known to be extreme protestors), a facial recognition team, Forward Intelligence Teams, three Police Support Units ("PSUs") and helicopters.


At 5.30 pm on 21 March 2003 Mr Lambert issued a statutory stop and search authorisation under section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. It applied to an area around Fairford, including Lechlade, and was extended on the following day. At 1.35 pm on 22 March he issued an authority under section 60AA of the 1994 Act, giving power to require the removal of disguises.


On the morning of 22 March the claimant was one of about 120 passengers who boarded 3"Greens of London" coaches at Euston bound for Fairford. It appears that the passengers were a diverse group of varying ages and affiliations including a legal observer and a longstanding female member of CND aged 76. The progress of the coaches was monitored, and at 10.45 am Mr Lambert made the following record in his log:

"Based on intelligence received it is understood that 3 coaches and a van are en route from LONDON carrying items and equipment to disrupt the protest today and gain entry to the air base. The protestors are the 'Wombles'. A Section 60 is in place and I have asked for an objective to be made for...

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