Public Order and Protest advice for businesses

The right to peacefully demonstrate and protest is a corner stone of our liberal democratic society. In the UK this right is protected under the European Convention of Human Rights (Article 10 – Freedom of expression, and  Article 11 – Freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association with others). However, the right is not absolute. A balance needs to be made regarding the rights of protesters to gather and express their views, and the rights of businesses to operate as normal without fear of intimidation, violence or serious disruption. When such acts occur the police have a range of powers to deal with them.

Lately, some protesters have increased their activism and publicity to include gluing or otherwise securing themselves to fixtures and fittings inside business premises, spray painting surfaces and causing other graffiti, and causing extensive damage that can cost thousands in repair bills.

It isn’t always possible to predict where protesters choose to gather, so it’s advisable for all businesses to consider what if any preparatory steps can be taken to mitigate any potential protest threat. This can include considerations on accessibility to your property, the actions staff can take, and in the eventuality of a sustained or high profile protest – how your business can continue; either onsite or elsewhere.

Many business premises provide an implied invitation to visitors and members of the public to have right of access for lawful purposes. Business owners or management can revoke this implied invitation and if they do so they must communicate this to the relevant individuals with a request to leave. Any refusal to leave results in the individuals becoming trespassers.

However being a trespasser on private premises is not a criminal offence, and any attending police officers will not have criminal law powers of removal.

Business staff have the right to use reasonable force to eject a trespassing protester and the police may assist if they reasonably believe a breach of the peace is otherwise imminent.  Ultimately it may be for a court to decide if any actions used to eject protesters was an appropriate level of reasonable force.

If criminal offences are committed or threatened (such as assaults and criminal damage) the police have primacy for taking action. The police also have powers to intervene and direct trespassers to leave a premises if they engage in the criminal offence of ‘aggravated trespass’ by being intimidatory, obstructive or disruptive towards the lawful activities of the concerned business.

Businesses need to include protest considerations within their operational and contingency planning. By being proactive, businesses can fully research, consider and identify policies and procedures on how to mitigate the risks associated with demonstrations and protests.

The below is a suggested generic model for consideration:

READINESS – Situational awareness: Does the nature of your business make you an obvious or likely target for protest groups? Do you have contractual arrangements with companies or organisations likely to attract similar attention? Review your protective security measures – do you have adequate window and door locks, access control systems and CCTV? Do you have on-site security and are they a high visibility deterrence at public access points? How quickly could you lock down your premises if needed? Are your staff and/or security briefed on demonstration/protest considerations? What research have you undertaken to understand the tactics used by protesters? Could you design-out opportunities for protester tactics? Do you need to consider additional staff training (e.g. conflict resolution, incident management – command/control/communication)? Where will your contingency plans be saved (hard copy and/or online) and will staff have ready access to them if required? Do you need to consider alternative working arrangements during significant or high profile demonstrations/protests (remote premises or agile working)?

RESPONSE – Situation management: Initial response protocols to limit impact of demonstration/protest? Initial roles and responsibilities of staff? Who will take charge of the situation on behalf of your business? Who will be the main point of contact for the protesters and how will you identify and respond to any demands ? What actions can you initiate to best protect the welfare of your staff, visitors, contractors, equipment, premises? How will you communicate with and update your staff, visitors, suppliers, contractors and customers during the incident management? What are the social media and online considerations? Do you need to engage and update any other businesses (shared buildings, adjacent businesses)? Are there any considerations for arbitrary actions that could diffuse the situation quickly? Are there any business reputational issues to consider?

RECOVERY – Return to normality: Restoring full control back to the business. Clean up considerations, removal of paint, graffiti, posters, solvents, hazardous or toxic substances? Removal or repair of damaged furniture, fixtures and security equipment. Restoring a safe and welcoming working environment. Phased return to premises of staff, visitors, contractors, customers. Additional welfare support considerations for affected staff, contractors, visitors, customers? Review of current policies and procedures – what worked and what needs to change? What did we learn and how would we manage a similar situation in the future? Do we need to extend our planning and communication to include shared buildings or adjacent businesses?

Any contingency and continuity plans need to have the flexibility to add, adapt or change measures as required by the relevant business. Adopting a ‘version-control’ approach ensures managers and staff use the most up to date plans.

Colmore BID works proactively with West Midlands Police to understand and prepare for any planned demonstrations and protests within the City Centre.

Additionally, the BID receives fortnightly “National Police Co-ordination Centre’ strategic industry briefing reports outlining the intelligence assessment for all known planned national, regional and local demonstrations and protests. Where necessary, Colmore BID circulates ‘Protest Notice’ alert mailers to relevant BID Members.

BID Members are part of our collective ‘eyes and ears’ within the Colmore Business District, and are urged to report any concerns relating to possible demonstrations and protests directly to the Colmore BID office or one of our Street Operations Team security staff as soon as possible.

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