Leicester Sq busking crackdown funded by private company

The band King’s Parade were arrested while busking in Leicester square in May.

Reports from a Westminster Council meeting (1) now reveal the context for this arrest.

The crackdown on busking in Leicester square is part of Operation Spotlight, which is funded by the private business association the Heart of London. The minutes report:

    ‘Operation Spotlight is a HoLBA (Heart of London Business Alliance) funded initiative aimed at deterring performers/buskers, pedicabs with amplification, persistent beggars and ticket touts.’

The council minutes reveal that this business association, in effect, bought police time, including a police sergeant, two PCs and a noise officer to focus on busking and other ‘noise offenders’ in the area.

    ‘A team was set up to deal specifically with the issues of concern in the local area and was funded by the Heart of London (HoLBA). A team of dedicated Officers was initially put together for a series of weekly operations that ran at varying times throughout the week. The Operations commenced on April 17th with the objective of disrupting the Noise Offenders earlier in the year. The team included 1 Police Sergeant, two PC’s and a WCC Noise Officer.’

    ‘We have been undertaking a busker patrol funded by HoLBA in and around Leicester Square since the beginning of May and this has had a significant effect on the number of buskers in the area.’

The minutes also show a blase approach to the use of powers, with the team picking and choosing ways in which to restrict busking according to the officers they happened to have working at the time.

    ‘The team used varying legislation depending on who was working and when. For example, the Noise team would use statutory noise nuisance prior to 9pm but then utilise the Control of Pollution Act after 21:00 & before 08:00 hours. When a noise officer was not available the MPS used the Metropolitan Police Act 1839.’

This has severe implications for public liberties and the rule of law. Police impartiality means little when private companies can essentially hire out the police to crack down on things they do not like.

If there are problems with busking in a particular area, these are far better dealt with through informal regulation, negotiating among the parties concerned, or developing buskers’ codes such as in Liverpool.

Citizens of a free society should never see musicians packed off in a police van for the mere act of playing their instruments in a public square. Such a sight is all the more concerning if their arrest was in effect financed by a private business association.

(1) The minutes are from the ‘Adults, Health and Public Protection Policy and Scrutiny Committee Briefing’, City of Westminster, Wednesday 25th June

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