‘Stop and search’ of monitor at Boxing Day parade raises serious questions

At the Abergavenny Boxing Day Parade of the Monmouth Hunt, Gwent Police made a formal ‘stop and search’ of a monitor. Helen was standing quietly on the side of a busy high street that at the time was almost empty but would soon be filled with people. The police claimed to be acting on ‘information and intelligence’ that she might ‘intentionally or recklessly cause public nuisance’ by using a personal alarm to ‘disrupt the hunt’ and ‘scare’ the hunt’s horses.

Helen has spoken to Protect the Wild at length about the incident. She has been left upset and shaken, angry that she could be accused of doing anything that would put an animal at risk, and fearing that the police might target her in the future.

All of what follows below is based on mobile phone footage recorded at the time and subsequent emails to Helen from Gwent Police. We should stress here that we’re posting this article to try to understand more about stop and search powers. We see it primarily as a precautionary example and a demonstration of why we need to know our rights – not a complaint about the police. We don’t agree with their actions, but Gwent Police behaved (to use their own words) “lawfully and professionally”.  The officers identified themselves, they described the legislation under which the search was being carried out, a female officer ‘patted down’ Helen, and she was advised that a copy of a police report would be made available – in other words, the correct procedures were followed.

That’s as it should be, but while we are not lawyers here at Protect the Wild, it seems only right to ask why in this specific case police officers used stop and search powers on someone who was doing absolutely nothing wrong solely because a hunt (which one we don’t know, as we explain below) provided ‘intelligence’ (which is something of an oxymoron) in what was clearly an attempt by that hunt to stop (or at least, hamper) legal protest.

  • Note that the header image shows the protests at the Boxing Day Parade. Helen is talking with a different group of officers long after the stop and search was carried out. We asked if she was concerned she could be identified but typically she said the hunt knows who she is and that ‘anger overcomes my fear’. We have used it with her full permission.


Stop and Search

Few of us probably have much interaction with the police at all, and it’s likely that even fewer people reading this will have been through a “stop and search”. So what is it?

One of the most controversial and most criticised police powers “stop and search” is a power given to the police by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) to stop people and detain them to search them. It is not an arrest, but it is also not voluntary (you can’t simply refuse and walk away without risking arrest).

Certain protocols which protect the public must always be followed by police officers conducting a stop and search, but if you’re not used to interacting with the police it can be extremely intimidating to suddenly find yourself being frisked by a police officer. Stop and search is renowned for its use to target young Black men (especially by the Metropolitan Police in London). It would be ridiculous to suggest it is being used on the same scale against hunt protestors, but aligning with the government’s fixation on penalising ‘disruptive protests’ by climate and fuel activists it does appear (at least anecdotally) that ‘stop and search’ is increasingly being used to intimidate hunt monitors and sabs.

Suspicion-based and suspicion-less searches

What can trigger a stop and search? What follows is necessarily a very basic overview (for more detailed information see our Protectors of the Wild page on Stop and search and the Law) but police officers have the power to stop and search if they have ‘reasonable grounds’ (‘suspicion-based stop and search’) to suspect an individual is carrying:

  • illegal drugs;
  • a weapon;
  • stolen property;
  • something which could be used to commit a crime, such as a crowbar.


Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 makes it legal to stop and search someone without reasonable grounds (a ‘suspicion-less stop and search’) if it has been approved by a senior police officer and if it is suspected that:

  • serious violence could take place;
  • you’re carrying a weapon or have used one;
  • you’re in a specific location or area.


So why was Helen stopped and searched?

None of the above would seem to apply to Helen (unless the police are defining a hunt parade as ‘a specific location or area’), so she requested a review of why she was stopped and searched. According to emails sent by Gwent Police

“with all public order operations the police rely on information and intelligence which forms a public order policing plan”

and they wrote specifically that

Gwent police received intelligence that you may be in possession of an alarm with an intention of disrupting the hunt.” [Not ‘hunt parade’ or the public, but ‘the hunt’.]

They go on to say that:

From reviewing the Body Worn Video of the officers [police officers should always activate their BWV bodycams during a stop and search] you stated that you were involved in a hunt a few days prior where you had been in possession of an alarm and had it stolen from you although at that point you had not reported the theft to police. This therefore provided the officer with enough suspicion and grounds to carry out the stop/search”. [Note especially that last sentence.]

And that Helen was being searched under section 78 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 which says that:

“1(7) An article is prohibited for the purposes of this part of this Act if it is –

(g) an offence under section 78 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 (intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance).



Stills from video footage of Helen’s stop and search by Gwent Police

Let’s look at the incident in more detail

Firstly, it’s important to note that Helen is well-known to the Curre and Llangibby Hunt – but she doesn’t monitor the Monmouth Hunt who were ‘parading’ that day. Gwent police haven’t confirmed where the ‘intelligence’ that led them to stop and search a 70-year-old activist with no criminal record standing on the pavement of a public highway in the middle of the day had come from. But given that no one but the Curre and Llangibby Hunt knew that Helen had carried a personal alarm to their meet the week before (Helen hadn’t yet reported the theft of her alarm to the police), it had to be either the Curre and Llangibby providing ‘intelligence’ prior to a parade they weren’t even at, or the Monmouth who had made allegations at the ‘parade’ using information provided by the Curre and Llangibby.

Secondly, as the composite of images above show, when the stop and search took place Helen was not standing in the road (which had been barriered in advance of the parade), she was not obstructing the pavement (the stop and search took place before crowds built up), nor was she causing anything that could be remotely described as a ‘public nuisance’. This stop and search, then, appears to be ‘suspicion-based’ even though police (using the criteria usually used for stop and search) had no reason to suspect Helen had committed a crime, was in possession of illegal drugs, or was carrying a weapon. In their own words, ‘intelligence’ that she had been carrying a personal alarm was the sole reason the police had to search her.

Fortunately, most of the stop and search was recorded by a fellow activist. ‘Most’ because understandably no one knew what was about to happen and the recording starts after the police have begun talking with Helen. Some information about what the officers said as they walked up – crucially did they know who Helen was from the outset –  was therefore missed. (Helen has asked for a copy of footage from the officers’ own bodycams).

Helen had previously liaised with Gwent Police’s Rural Crime Team (she’d actually offered to meet up with them before the ‘parade’ had begun) so thought that perhaps they’d come to talk to her about the parade. She is clearly surprised to be told she is to be stopped and searched, but throughout the interaction with the police Helen can be seen to be calm, standing still, and while expressing her unhappiness with being singled out is making her point politely. On the footage recorded at the time Helen can be heard saying several times that she doesn’t have a personal alarm on her because it was stolen from her the week before at a meet of the Curre and Llangibby Hunt.

Disturbingly, at one point the male police officer can be heard on video saying Helen won’t be handcuffed because she’s not attempting to get away! Procedure or not, surely to any rational person looking on any mention of handcuffs as two unformed officers stand over a slightly-built woman who hasn’t committed a crime and is showing no signs of resisting or running off smacks of overkill and deliberate intimidation. We think Helen deserves an apology.


Is potentially using a personal alarm justification for a stop and search?

Gwent police appear to have used controversial and unusual powers to stop Helen because a hunt provided ‘intelligence’ about her carrying a personal alarm.


A Curre and Llangibby Hunt supporter previously unknown to Helen who threatened her.


Helen has never denied owning a personal alarm. She had been carrying one because of genuine concerns about her safety. The month before a hunt terrierman from the Curre had had to sign a Community Resolution Order and had his firearms taken away by police because of death threats he made towards her. The alarm was stolen three days before the parade when Helen had been using it to protect herself from (in her words) Curre and Llangibby “hunt thugs who were driving their horses at me and backing their horses into me and a friend who were monitoring the hunt to ensure they didn’t go into any Natural Resources Wales woods from which they are banned”.  The day ended with the huntsman threatening to follow Helen home.

Video evidence of all of this has been shown to the police.


Curre and Llangibby Hunt supporters in a wood belonging to Natural Resources Wales a few weeks before the Monmouth Hunt ‘parade’ – perhaps the very men on whose ‘intelligence’ Gwent Police were acting


Ironically, as part of a Safer Streets campaign Gwent Police themselves “have given out free home and vehicle security packs containing window alert alarms, lighting timers and personal attack alarms” to local residents. Other forces have advised women to carry alarms. While it should be a given that no one should feel so unsafe that they feel the need to carry an alarm, violence (especially against women) is endemic across society – and as recent reports on the notorious Cottesmore Hunt demonstrate is used against female hunt protestors.

We think most reasonable people would agree therefore that Helen had a good reason to carry an alarm. Enthusiasts of ‘countryside sports’ will no doubt argue that if Helen hadn’t been out in the countryside monitoring the hunt nothing would have happened to her, but assault is against the law and we all have the right to defend ourselves. Carrying a personal alarm is perfectly legal in the UK. They are not classified as weapons, and there are no laws prohibiting their use. They do though now appear to be cause for a ‘stop and search’ if they might ‘disrupt the hunt’…

What did the stop and search find?

Nothing more (as Helen put it) than ‘a lace handkerchief’. As she repeatedly told the officers her only personal alarm – the possession of which was the reason she was being searched, remember – had been stolen from her by a terrierman (and as we’ll point out yet again, oddly not from the same hunt now getting ready to ride down a specially-closed high street).

We have our own questions

As we said above. carrying a personal alarm is perfectly legal in the UK and there are no laws prohibiting their use. But there is a caveat – using an alarm to intentionally cause harm or distress to another person is illegal and could result in criminal charges.

That caveat is no doubt how Gwent Police justify their stop and search of Helen. The core duty of the police service “is to protect the public by detecting and preventing crime” and that can of course be pre-emptive, but several things stand out about this incident:

  1. Who actually ‘reported’ Helen and why did the police not consider it ‘anecdotal’ when there was no evidence and the ‘intelligence’ was entirely based on the say-so of a hunt referencing a prior incident the police neither witnessed nor had reported to them? Given that Helen’s alarm had been stolen at a Curre and Llangibby Hunt meet and that particular hunt wasn’t even in Abergavenny at the time, that ‘intelligence’ may have even been secondhand rather than firsthand.
  2. It’s not clear from the police’s email we quoted above whether police already knew about the alarm or (as the email from them appears to suggest) it was Helen’s confirmation that she had carried one that triggered the stop and search. Video footage clearly suggests that the police were already lining Helen up for a stop and search before she told them about her alarm being stolen the week before, so what did the email mean by “This therefore provided the officer with enough suspicion and grounds to carry out the stop/search”? Was this a simple error or something more – an attempt to justify the search perhaps?
  3. Surely Gwent Police didn’t need to use strongarm tactics on an ‘elderly woman’ (Helen’s words, not ours) who was not using an alarm, didn’t have an alarm visible, and was not committing a crime or causing a nuisance at the time of the stop and search. Yes, of course, until a search is done the police don’t know what they will find – but it still seems like an over-reaction. Why didn’t police tell Helen – politely – that concerns had been raised instead, tell her by whom, and ask her if she planned to ‘disrupt the hunt’? She could have told them she would be protesting but would do so legally. That would surely have been a more proportionate response.
  4. Many people carry personal alarms. What would police have done if they’d found one: would Helen have been arrested or had the alarm taken off her? Are police now saying that in certain circumstances carrying a fully legal alarm is ‘reasonable grounds’ for a stop and search?
  5. Given the noise being made in the street when the parade was taking place, could a personal alarm really have caused a ‘public nuisance’ anyway?
  6.  What happened to common sense? In the video the officers say they are ‘neutral’ and just doing their jobs and we aren’t in a position to dispute that, but the police are fully aware of the antagonism between pro-hunt supporters and pro-wildlife activists (the number of police on the streets during the parade proves that). Gwent Police must have known this was an attempt to intimidate a local activist (and perhaps have them escorted out of the area) and surely understands how it looks to the rest of us to use stop and search powers on an activist entirely on the unproven/anecdotal ‘intelligence’ of a fox hunt…


Know your rights

It’s highly likely that other activists reading this will be thinking, ‘Yes, that’s happened to me’. There is little doubt that hunts are  ‘weaponising’ the police against legitimate protest. Hunts up and down the country already phone in false reports about sabs and monitors carrying weapons to delay or stop monitoring taking place. While the police search them or their vehicles, the pack moves away to continue hunting. Whatever the intentions of Gwent Police examples like this will only embolden hunts further. Will hunts now start calling in reports of ‘personal alarms’ and expect the police to turn up? Will ‘fear of a personal alarm’ be used to stifle Boxing Day protests?

Whatever the outcome of this action, it is crucial that we understand our rights and what it means when police do a stop and search.  We have provided as much relevant information as we can find and collated it on our Protectors of the Wild page ‘Stop and Search and the Law‘. We will keep adding to that page (and all other Protectors pages) as we learn more, but several points are crucial:

  • Remain calm. We’re not being arrested but if we walk off or attempt to resist it could make things worse very quickly.
  • The police must identify themselves, tell us why the stop and search is taking place, and that a report will be made available to us.
  • Answer direct questions but don’t volunteer information: what we say may be used to justify the stop and search at a later date.
  • We have the right to film everything that is taking place or have someone else record it for us.
  • We have the right to make a complaint afterwards and have that complaint assessed.


We suggested to Helen that we would go with her to Newport Police Station if the police were prepared to explain their actions to her. They have emailed a report and the force’s Complaints Assessor Gemma Evans has written to Helen. As far as we know there will not be a face-to-face interview taking place anytime soon.

(We would like to thank Helen for her extensive help with this article.)