Your report, Police ban lab campaign demo (Oxford Mail, July 24), accurately reflects the decision by Thames Valley Police to place restrictions on the planned demonstration in Oxford city centre last Saturday.
It might be helpful if I develop our position.
Thames Valley Police recognise the rights of individuals and groups to demonstrate on any issue. We have consistently said we will facilitate such demonstrations, which, as Mel Broughton, of Speak, said, are part of the democratic rights of individuals within this country.
However, this right to demonstrate is never a blank cheque and we always take into account the impact the demonstration will have on other people who might want to use the city, and on the transport and commercial infrastructure. We therefore seek to find a balance between the rights of those who demonstrate and the rights of those who simply want to go about their legitimate business.
In trying to find this balance, our policy has been to meet the organisers of demonstrations and agree the parameters for the day.
Since the demonstration in February when both Speak and Pro-Test marched in the city on the same day, we have been able to meet the organisers from both groups and, in my view, find a sensible compromise which upheld democratic freedoms, yet ensured the city continued to function. It is regrettable that for the demonstration last Saturday, Speak refused to meet us and refused to share their plans for the day.
Given this situation, the police had to plan for all contingencies, and part of that planning included the use of Section 14 of the Public Order Act, which allows us to impose conditions as we judge appropriate.
While demonstrators may well feel there were limitations placed upon them, the very simple answer to this in future is to sit down with the police and agree plans for the event.
I remain very clear in my position in terms of managing demonstrations in Oxford city we will facilitate lawful and peaceful demonstrations on any subject matter, but I will do all in my power to ensure the city is not brought to a grinding halt in the course of those demonstrations. Talk to us in future.
David McWhirter, Chief Superintendent, Oxfordshire Commander, Thames Valley Police