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18/09/2003

Police granted new powers to curb pirate broadcasting

The battle against pirate radio stations received a boost today as new powers of arrest under the Communications Act came into force.

The police, working with Radiocommunications Agency investigators, will be able to arrest a pirate broadcaster or anybody suspected of supporting or facilitating illegal broadcasting. Previously police could only detain someone if they suspected them of giving a false name and address or another criminal act, such as a breach of the peace or assault.

The new powers of arrest will also extend to acts of deliberate interference with radio communications and hoax calls, especially false distress calls.

Communications Minister Stephen Timms said: "These new powers will be an important weapon in the campaign against pirate broadcasters.

"By interfering with communications services which are vital for public safety, pirates can put lives at risk. They also cause interference with other licensed radio users and can be a social nuisance to those who live near pirate stations."

The number of pirate broadcasters is declining whilst the prosecution rates are rising. Figures for 2002 showed a fall of 15% in the number of illegal stations whilst prosecutions more than doubled to 49, with a further 55 prosecutions so far in 2003. Pirates detained under these new powers could face an unlimited fine or up to two years in prison.

Penalties for these offences remain at a maximum of up to 2 years in prison and/or an unlimited fine, plus forfeiture of anything used in the commission the offence. For other transmitting offences (for example unlicensed use of business, marine, or amateur radio) the maximum penalty will be a £5,000 fine and/or six months in prison plus forfeiture.

Up to the end of August this year RA had carried out 607 operations against 149 pirate broadcasters in the UK – 55 people have been prosecuted to date.

(gmcg)

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