13/10/2011 02:44 BST | Updated 12/12/2011 05:12 GMT

UK Riots: Police Could Get More Powers After Summer Disorder

Police could be given more powers to demand face coverings are removed and to impose curfews to deal with crowds in the wake of this summer's riots under plans being considered by the Home Secretary.

Theresa May will host an international conference on gangs at the Home Office as she launches a consultation to ensure police have the powers they need to tackle disturbances.

The consultation will also consider whether it should remain an offence to use insulting words amid concerns from some MPs that the law is being used by activist groups and over-zealous police officers to undermine free speech.

The proposals to expand the powers available to police were first outlined by the Prime Minister after he recalled Parliament at the height of the riots in August.

David Cameron said he had asked police if they needed any new powers and told MPs: "Specifically on face masks - currently they can only remove these in a specific geographical location and for a limited time.

"So I can announce that we are going to give the police the discretion to remove face coverings under any circumstances where there is reasonable suspicion that they are related to criminal activity.

"And on dealing with crowds, we are also looking at the use of existing dispersal powers and whether any wider power of curfew is necessary."

Mrs May is understood to have spoken to a series of forces about the powers and today's consultation will seek the public's views to ensure that traditional British freedoms are not being compromised by the proposals.

It comes as police representatives and academics from the United States, Jamaica, France, Spain, Sweden and Austria gather at the Home Office for a private meeting at the start of what is hoped will become a lasting international network of experts on gangs.

US "supercop" Bill Bratton will also be at the meeting to share his experiences tackling gangs as head of police departments in New York, Boston and Los Angeles over the last two decades.