Police check licences of boats on River Lea, London

We have had another message from boaters in London, to let us know that apparently around six policemen worked their way down the River Lea from Tottenham checking licences and making notes on Saturday 11 September.  They asked at least one person who had a licenced boat for their personal details, which they made a note of. This person did supply this information (there is no legal requirement for one to supply the police with personal information unless arrested). A London boater said “I had what I would describe as a fairly unpleasant encounter with two of these policemen . They came to my boat and asked why I did not have a licence (I have not put the new licence in the window yet).  They demanded my details. I declined to give any details. They informed me they would contact British Waterways and that British Waterways would then move me on (or words to that effect).  When I asked them why they were checking licences they asked me why I wanted to know. I replied that their activities may effect our community.  They sarcastically replied … “oh yes who is your community is that you then?” (or words to that effect).  I felt quite threatened.

I said to them that I thought it was extremely unusual that the police would be doing the job of the BW patrol officers.  They said that it is an unusual situation that London has the Olympics. They also told me that they were water police and had rights on all of London’s waterways. I also learned that a small group of people associated with the boats who had a fire going by the towpath were given an antisocial behaviour warning and issued with some bits of paper by the same police.

I think that this might mark the beginning of an interest the police may start taking in boats on East/North London Waterways, and in our community.  I also think it is possible that some boats may be searched by the police at some point.  This could be done under the pretence of security for the Olympics”.

The Legal Officer of the National Bargee Travellers Association has given this advice to London boaters: “As far as I know the water police (Met) hold jurisdiction within the Port of London and (as far as I know) that excludes the Lee – the non-tidal bits (ie the canals) are not within the jurisdiction. As far as jurisdiction is concerned I believe that the EA and BW hold jurisdiction on the water that they control respectively. I think that this includes active pursuit – at which point the Met have to defer to the EA/BW. EA for example have powers of entry if the appropriately warranted officer is in attendance.

The terrestrial Police (so including the water Police – ie collectively the Met) hold jurisdiction in relation to waterside issues (ie including the towpath) as the BW/EA jurisdiction applies solely to the water itself and mixed jurisdiction in relation to towpath – so EA and BW can get nasty about civil things such as posting signs or interfering with the bank and the Met can address criminal activity if it arises.

Most importantly the jurisdiction on a boat is in the first instance solely that of a skipper and (outside of Met jurisdiction) definitely NOT the Met – in principle a Met officer boarding a boat holds no jurisdiction and if the skipper believes that the officer is acting or going to act in a manner that is unlawful the skipper also holds a power of arrest – an interesting issue – pending surrender of the arrested person to the authority of jurisdiction (ie BW/EA) – noting that the arrested person would immediately be released by the authority but an interesting point of law – don’t take my word for this but it does seem to fit. I have thrown an officer (who was attending on business to confront me) off my boat, something that he was most put about over but he complied. Also (I guess) an issue of “safety in numbers” so if they turn up en masse then there had better be more of you than of them.

As for demanding information, I believe two principles apply. First, they have no jurisdiction in relation to asking questions of a skipper _of matters relating to his boat_ (ie contrasting with business on land) so they are acting ultra vires (they do not have the legal power to do it). Second, BW/EA DO hold jurisdiction in relation to licensing so it is for them to investigate licensing issues and not the Met – a subtle distinction from the first principle but about who does hold and who is excluded from jurisdiction. If this assertion holds then there are grounds for complaint under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights on the grounds of unlawful harassment without jurisdiction.

Note the final and most important point. If there is any connection at all between these incidents and the upcoming Olympics then this action is political and not pertaining to criminal inquiry. At this stage the Police hold no jurisdiction and this represents grounds for not simply complaint to the Met but also the raising of Parliamentary Question – and in particular given what appears to be growing harassment of travellers since the new administration took power this is perhaps the most insidious part of this sequence of events. Harassment of travellers is after all a criminal offence and if we find that this is taking place with political motivation then we are rapidly heading towards very dark days – so the time to address this is right now.”

A Freedom of Information reply from BW claims that they did not order the police to make licence checks on boats.

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