THE council has defended its use of a century old by-law to threaten protesters with prosecution.

Socialist Party members are angry they have been confronted by council officers after setting up tables in order to display leaflets in Walthamstow town square.

The campaigners say they have used the same spot for years without being notified of a problem.

But during a recent protest calling for a public enquiry into the council's long-term mismanagement of contracts, a council officer informed them they were breaking the law and could be fined £500.

A council spokesman said the by-law has always been enforced, but until recently there have not been enough enforcement officers working at the weekends to catch people breaking it.

The authority has increased its number of environmental enforcement officers, who tackle flytipping, dog fouling and littering.

This has been funded by scrapping the street warden service.

A spokesman said: "The council has a clear duty to take action where there are clear breaches of its by laws.

“We are determined to ensure there is fairness for the overwhelming majority of groups who follow these rules.

"Any person or group wishing to operate in these areas needs to have the correct permission, in the form of a signed agreement, and have paid the appropriate fee."

Socialist Party members have accused the authority of attempting to stifle free speech and are organising a “day of action”, called Campaign 2 Campaign, in the town square on March 6 from noon.

Campaigners are calling on residents to set up stalls, and bring banners and megaphones to demand the right to protest.

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