Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Arrested for angling

I have had my attention drawn to this story on the GetReading website which relates to an incident that apparently happened earlier this month in Woodley. Three men claim that anti-terror laws were used to arrest them because they were using laser pens to scare off ducks whilst they were fishing. They were arrested for "endangering aircraft". The police claim that the men were arrested under the Air Navigation Order 2005 although the men dispute this.

Either way, I think that a few things should be borne in mind here:

  • It is not illegal to use laser pens to scare off ducks whilst fishing.
  • It is not illegal to possess a laser pen.
  • According to at least one of the men, the lasers were confiscated and have not been returned. I am sure they would be interested to know on what grounds personal property is being withheld.
  • This sort of thing could not possibly have been what either the terrorism legislation, or the air navigation legislation was intended to be used for.

This reminds me of the case of Walter Wolfgang who was forcibly ejected from the Labour party conference a few years ago through use of anti-terror legislation because he heckled Jack Straw mildly when he was Foreign Secretary. Ministers constantly assure us when questioned about loop holes and potential unintended consequences with phrases like "there is no intention to use the legislation that way" and "that is not what it is for". Yet far too often, once the laws are passed the unintended consequences come to pass and the transient assurances from here today, gone tomorrow ministers are worthless as they are not codified in the laws.

One final point I would make here is that some of the comments on that news story claim that the laser pens are a nuisance to surrrounding houses. If that is the case, then surely the men could have been questioned on those grounds. Public nuisance is something for which there are laws in place to handle. Terrorism laws or air navigation laws should not be used to arrest middle aged fisherman unless there are very good reasons to suspect they really are terrorists or a danger to aircraft. It seems extremely unlikely that was the case here.

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