CAMPAIGNERS have hit out at “bizarre” new criminal offences being created after councils banned activities taking place in public spaces.

Last year Colchester Council stopped car cruisers from gathering at Turner Rise retail park after hundreds descended on the site for meetings.

It made it a crime for people to drive into the retail park after 6pm unless the driver is using the facilities. They face a £100 fine if they break the order, which is a form of Asbo.

Colchester Council said there had been no prosecutions since the new legislation was introduced.

However, the Manifesto Club, which supports free expression, says people could be seen as criminals as councils introduce a "patchwork of criminal law" as part of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act.

Authorities can use public spaces protection orders (PSPOs) to ban certain activities designed to restrict freedoms, the campaign group says.

Josie Appleton, director of the Manifesto Club, said: "These powers are so broad they allow councils to ban pretty much anything.

"The result is a patchwork of criminal law where something is illegal in one town but not in the next, or in one street but not the next.

"This makes it hard for the public to know what is criminal and what is not.

"It is astonishing that in the 21st century you could be punished for the crime of selling a lucky charm, 'loitering', or failing to leave a retail park within 20 minutes. This looks like a return to the meddling and moralism of 19th-century by-laws."