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Equine clothing that closely resembles Police uniform

11 Feb 2013

The British Horse Society received the following letter from the Association of Chief Police Officers at the end of January and we reproduce it here for members’ information:

Equine clothing that closely resembles Police uniform

To The British Horse Society:

I write as the national lead for mounted policing within the United Kingdom in order to clarify the position with regard to equine clothing that closely resembles police uniform. As an influential and respected publication serving the equestrian community, I thought it might be helpful if I set out the legal position from a policing perspective to assist your readers and prevent any misunderstanding.

Over recent months a number of examples of high visibility equine apparel have been brought to my attention. These articles have caused concern to the police on the grounds that individuals wearing them are likely to be mistaken for being a police officer due to the design closely resembling police uniform. I have therefore sought advice on the legality of these designs, which has identified the following as the three main characteristics of police high visibility uniform:

Wording – police high visibility clothing typically has POLICE printed as a contrasting block of letters prominently displayed to the rear and/or front.

Colour – police high visibility uniform is universally yellow.

Chequered Banding – police high visibility clothing commonly uses blue/silver chequered banding, this colour being standardised by international convention.

The conclusion of these enquiries is that any item of clothing that has been manufactured to match these characteristics of police uniform is at risk of contravening legislation, namely Section 90 Police Act 1996. The ultimate decision about the legitimacy of any individual product is yet to be defined conclusively by any court, but the legal standard as enacted is an objective measure of whether the clothing worn by an individual, and/or their horse, would give the impression that that rider is a police officer when they are not. As such, any wording displayed on clothing which is similar in appearance to ‘POLICE’ (i.e. in a shape, format or font used on police uniform), even if is spelt differently, would leave the wearer at risk of breaching the law, particularly if the other characteristics are present. 

It is apparent that this issue has been subject to considerable debate through equine forums and I wish therefore to clarify the position from the police’s perspective for your readers so that they appreciate the risks associated with wearing such products and/or designs. I would also like to take this opportunity to confirm that whilst the police would support any work to make the roads safer, we do not endorse or recommend any specific high visibility products or manufacturer, nor have we done so.

Yours faithfully,
Rod Hansen, Assistant Chief Constable, ACPO Lead for Mounted Policing

Mounted Police Officers

We contacted two manufacturers of hi-viz products for their reaction to this letter and received the following responses:

V-Bandz withdrew all chequered products from sale in early January, after we received revised guidelines from the Police pending their national press release.
Please can all riders with V-Bandz chequered products for either the rider or the horse visit our website for guidance about their product. For example: we will be replacing all of our ‘PLEASE’ waistcoats and offering to amend horse apparel. We do not want riders to continue to use their V-Bandz chequered products as the clarification has shown they have the potential to contravene the act.
Fiona Kennedy
V-Bandz Ltd


Dear Customer,
With reference to the recent Police directive we would like to apologise for any confusion that their communication may have caused.

The POLITE range was only manufactured after this positive response by Association of Chief Police Officer (ACPO) Lead of Mounted Policing, Commander Robert Broadhurst from the Metropolitan Police, who stated the following:

“Provided there is no deliberate attempt to impersonate Police there is very little we can do other than perhaps ask them to ensure the word looks more like polite than police. Assuming they have no items of police uniform it is unlikely the public will mistake them for us, but if they do it will just be another High Visibility Patrol which should add to the reassurance picture.”

The law regarding this is so ambiguous as to be confusing, otherwise the new ACPO lead for the Mounted Police would not have had to interpret the law and issue ‘new’ guidelines, which are at best unclear and perhaps even more confusing than ever.

The implementation of the ‘new’ guidelines is also quite irresponsible and could certainly cause riders to remove their ‘hi-visibilty’ clothing if approached by an officer and we are also completely astounded by it. In particular we would draw your attention to the Crime Prosecution Service (CPS) which states the following:

Impersonating a Police Officer.

Section 90 Police Act 1996 creates several offences to the Impersonation of Police Officers or the possession of articles of Police uniform, namely:

• Impersonating a Police Officer (including a special constable)
• Making a statement or doing any act calculated falsely to
 suggest membership of a Police Force
• Wearing a Police uniform calculated to deceive
• Possessing an article of Police uniform

The circumstances of the case may disclose more than one of these offences, it will seldom be necessary to charge more than one offence. You should select the most appropriate.

You should consider the motive of the defendant where the impersonation involves a threat to the safety of any person, or to property, or is done with a view to financial gain, then a prosecution should follow.

We are not aware of a single criminal act of intent to impersonate a Police Officer in the past three years of selling the ‘POLITE’ range.

Consider this Scenario – Rider cautioned whilst out hacking;
Result – Rider removes hi-visibility safety apparel; Conclusion – Rider is now at a higher risk of a road traffic accident.

We suggest if approached by a Police Officer you explain why you need hi-visibility clothing and ask what crime they think you intend to commit.

We categorically do not recommend you remove your hi-visibility products whilst on a public highway.

As there have been no reported incidents of crime related to wearing hi-visibility clothing we have no idea why the new ACPO leader is directing officers to caution innocent members of the public.

We would welcome any definitive solution to this issue as long as it included proper, considered communication which responsibly deals with the ‘real issue’ of road safety and delivers comfort to the general public whilst satisfying the ‘true’ intent of the legislation which is, of course, tackling crime.

Equisafety has always been committed to hi-visibility road safety and we would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for the massive support we have received so far. We can assure you that we will be seeking a more responsible approach from the Police via the relevant authorities.
Nicola Fletcher MA
Managing Director of Equisafey Ltd

The British Horse Society offers no comment or advice on these responses to the letter issued by ACPO, we simply wish to inform our members and the general public of the situation.

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