There has been some trouble in Auchinleck, East Ayrshire. This is described:

Det Insp Louise White of Ayrshire Division said: "An investigation is under way following an incident of large-scale disorder in Auchinleck on Saturday, 25 November. Officers were called to reports of a crowd gathered in Old Avenue.

"The crowd moved to other addresses in the area and public order officers attended to assist when the crowd refused to disperse when requested.

"Unfortunately during the incident some of those gathered became extremely hostile towards the police and one officer was struck by a firework and taken to hospital for treatment."

What does it mean that the police "requested" the crowd to disperse? Does making/refusing a request, which would usually refer to an optional thing, put any requirements upon the subject, or give any powers to the police? In particular, do the police need to do something other than "request" before they charge in which shields and weapons?

  • I think more information is needed. For instance, what was the behavior of the crowd before the police "requested" that they disperse? Was there a riot going on? The linked article is short on detail... Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 19:18

1 Answer 1


Ordinarily, a request by police is made in the simple hope of stopping the crime or disorder that is happening in front of them. It is not an offence in itself to disobey the request, but somebody might already be committing a different offence (e.g. breach of the peace, assault, mobbing, etc.) which could lead to their arrest.

Issuing a request or warning is an attempt by the police to de-escalate the situation, but also serves to justify the future use of force. That is, while the police have the power to use reasonable force, part of what makes it "reasonable" is that they tried not using force, and that was not enough to restore order. This is not a strictly required pattern, just common practice; depending on the situation it could be reasonable to use force immediately.

It is also possible that refusal to disperse when asked could contribute to the offence of mobbing, which is common law offence where a group of people is assembled for a shared violent and unlawful purpose. It is often questionable whether a given person was part of the mob, if they commit no specific violent actions themselves, because it's difficult to infer from their actions whether they share the common purpose. If someone hears a police warning to leave, but stays in the group, then that could be offered as evidence to support their conviction. But a standard rebuttal is to cast doubt on whether the person heard and understood the warning.

There are some special cases where it is an offence to disobey a police direction. For example, the Antisocial Behaviour etc. (Scotland) Act 2004 creates a regime where a senior officer can, after consultation and publication, designate an area (section 19) within which a constable can order people to disperse (section 21) if they are causing alarm or distress to the public. It is an offence (section 22) to contravene the direction knowingly and without reasonable excuse.

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