A potential ban on balaclavas following concern about the woolly garments being used to hide people’s faces in a string of recent violent attacks on Teesside has been described as “ludicrous”.
A balaclava-clad gang of youths said to have been carrying sticks and bars was responsible for an attack at the Norfolk Place parade of shops, in Berwick Hills, Middlesbrough, in which a 40-year-old woman and two teenagers, aged 17 and 15, were injured.
The incident and the resulting community concern brought about by continued high levels of anti-social behaviour led to Middlesbrough Mayor Andy Preston telling local residents that he’d been “speaking to lawyers” and believed a ban within six months was possible.
Meanwhile, an 86-year-old man was dragged from his car in Teesville and his dog thrown from the vehicle, which was stolen and driven off.
The culprits were said to have been wearing dark clothes and balaclavas.
And in another recent incident a 59-year-old man was jumped and left with a severe head injury after being attacked while out walking in Eston.
Again those responsible were wearing balaclavas to cover their faces.
Cleveland Police and Crime Commissioner Steve Turner has suggested local councils could potentially use powers in the form of so-called Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) to restrict the wearing of balaclavas.
Writing on Facebook, Mr Turner said: “I want to see this culture of wearing balaclavas to commit crime and intimidate people stopped.”
But Redcar councillor Chris Jones, who was one of the police and crime commissioner candidates Mr Turner came out on top against in his 2021 election, said it was a “ludicrous” idea to suggest local councils could carry out enforcement in respect of people wearing balaclavas.
He said: “How could this possibly work, are we going to ban scarves, face masks, helmets or the hijab?”
“I’ve never heard anything more ridiculous from someone in a position such as Mr Turner, we need real solutions to real problems.”
Mr Turner said there was “almost no reason for your average person to wear one in this country even in the coldest months” and those that did so were intending to be “part of a gang or to hide their identity when causing trouble and committing crime”.
The Conservative PCC said PSPOs, which can restrict certain types of anti-social behaviour such as begging, drinking alcohol in public areas and other nuisances, could be one option available to the authorities.
He said he did not disagree with a ban on balaclavas and understood why some may think it is a good idea, but the problem was “legislation to do this universally doesn’t exist”.
Mr Turner said: “There is a way though and last October I wrote to a number of people highlighting the fact that the best way for us to do this was for councils to use their powers and create specific Public Space Protection Orders.
“These allow the enforcement of a ban on balaclavas in certain problem areas.
“Those that break the rules can then be issued with fixed penalty notices and warnings before progressing on to prosecution for persistent offenders.”
The PCC, who referred to a “small minority of criminals seriously terrorising our communities”, claimed such an approach, which would involve council wardens, would “significantly reduce the problem”.
All three Teesside councils – Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland and Stockton – already have existing PSPOs in place in some areas such as town centres.
A spokesman for Redcar and Cleveland Council said: “Protecting people from anti-social behaviour is vitally important and the council has not hesitated to use Public Space Protection Orders if necessary and will continue to do so.
“At the same time, reducing freedoms in public spaces – which may also affect law-abiding people simply going about their business – is not taken lightly.
“We can confirm that banning the wearing of balaclavas is not something that has been considered previously, or at the current time.”