Public Order Act 1986
The Public Order Act creates the offence, under section 4a, of intentionally causing someone harassment, alarm or distress. To be guilty of this offence you must also have been using threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour or words or disorderly behaviour. Both parts of the criteria must be fulfilled. This section is different from section 5 POA86 as it means that the police / Crown Prosecution Service believe that your intention was to cause someone harassment, alarm or distress.
As with the other offences under the Public Order Act, there does not have to be a victim of the offence. Nor does there actually have to be anyone present who would feel harassed, etc. by your actions – the act is concerned with a “potential victim” – someone who would be affected by your actions if they had been present.
Don’t get confused between section 4 and section 4a. Section 4 is covered under the heading “Violence” as it creates the offence of causing someone fear of violence or provoking violence.
S4a – Intentional Harassment, Alarm, Distress.
(1)A person is guilty of an offence if, with intent to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress, he—
(a)uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or
(b)displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting,
thereby causing that or another person harassment, alarm or distress.
(2)An offence under this section may be committed in a public or a private place, except that no offence is committed where the words or behaviour are used, or the writing, sign or other visible representation is displayed, by a person inside a dwelling and the person who is harassed, alarmed or distressed is also inside that or another dwelling.
(3)It is a defence for the accused to prove—
(a)that he was inside a dwelling and had no reason to believe that the words or behaviour used, or the writing, sign or other visible representation displayed, would be heard or seen by a person outside that or any other dwelling, or
(b)that his conduct was reasonable.
(4)A constable may arrest without warrant anyone he reasonably suspects is committing an offence under this section.
(5)A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale or both.