A DECISION not to make a senior police officer face gross misconduct charges for allegedly punching a demonstrator during a "frightening" outbreak of disorder in the streets in Bolton has been upheld by the High Court.

A judge described how "a thin line of police officers" in Bolton was holding back an angry crowd "in an event that was truly a borderline riot".

Members of Unite Against Fascism had organised a demonstration to oppose a rally being held in Victoria Square on March 20 2010 by the English Defence League.

Officers were holding the line in "a very frightening and disturbing scene", said High Court judge Mr Justice Mostyn.

At one point Insp Bob Cantrell, on duty that day, came up against anti-fascist demonstrator Alan Clough, then 64.

The judge said television footage he had watched showed police officers "desperately trying to stop a breach of their line", and the inspector could be seen hitting Mr Clough in the face with his right hand.

"The force of the blow knocked off (Mr Clough's) woollen hat - his beanie," said the judge.

Mr Clough was arrested after it was claimed he hit a police officer, but the case against him was dropped when video footage, in its unenhanced version, emerged allegedly showing him being struck by the police officer.

Mr Cantrell was charged with perverting the course of justice, but the charges were dropped when prosecutors offered no evidence against him, having seen enhanced video evidence.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) decided that the inspector had a case to answer for alleged misconduct, but not gross misconduct - a charge which could end his police career if found proved.

Mr Clough and other campaigners asked the High Court to rule the IPCC decision to rule out charges of gross misconduct as "perverse and irrational".

Dismissing their application for judicial review, the judge ruled Mr Cantrell had not "acted recklessly or in bad faith".

The circumstances he faced were "extremely difficult and stressful" and the IPCC "was plainly entitled to conclude the assault amounted to misconduct, but not gross misconduct".

The judge said he was not denying Mr Clough redress for what had allegedly happened to him — "I am told there are civil proceedings afoot in which he is claiming substantial damages for the blow that was landed on him that day".