Tim Worstall comments
"I have a very strong feeling that the actual crime here is pissing off a policemen. And that might be an even greater problem than the restriction of free speech one. That we’re hiring people into the police force who have such thin skins, are not able to understand that what is illegal and what might hurt a policemen’s fragile ego are not the same thing, that’s a problem."He may have a point. There has always been a problem of people with an agenda who like a police uniform because it gives them an opportunity to bully people who annoy them. And seven hours in police cells is not minor bullying - it's pretty serious.
But the real issue is freedom of speech, and the blatant abuse of the 1986 Public Order Act. In the context of the latest arrest, the remarks of Lord Dear, former Chief Constable of the West Midlands, speaking on the debate on the Waddington amendment last year, are very interesting.
“ . . . prior to the Waddington amendment, the police regularly received complaints from homosexual groups that exception was taken to remarks that homosexuality was deplored on religious grounds. The police were forced to act. They operated, as we have already heard alluded to, against a background of the Home Office’s guidance notes on how to handle hate crime under the Public Order Act 1986, to which the issue of sexual orientation was added by the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008.
"The so-called guidance notes in fact required rigid adherence. Any complaint of hate crime, by whomsoever made, even a bystander, had to be recorded as such and fully investigated. No exercise of discretion was countenanced. Accordingly, the police, and later the CPS, when faced with a complaint concerning remarks about sexual orientation, would follow the Home Office’s guidance notes, go through the whole procedure of interview, sometimes following arrest—fingerprinting, taking DNA samples, police bail, sometimes charge—even though pretty well everyone in the official process knew that there was little or no chance of a prosecution, much less a conviction, following.”
". . . With the Waddington amendment in place, the police are released from the virtual straitjacket imposed on them previously; they can exercise common sense and good judgment on the day; and they can police with the light touch which is so often sought and required by society.”
Hmmm. Common sense? Good judgment? Light touch? I don't think so.
There is, of course, another issue. The Conservative Party manifesto has sections (p79) entitled "Restore our civil liberties" and "Protect our freedoms". The Liberal Democrat manifesto says (p93) "Liberal Democrats will protect and restore your freedoms." Yet the leadership of both parties have, as far as I am aware, been totally silent on the police harassment of street preachers over the past 13 years.
I realise that they cannot comment specifically on this case, since Mr. McAlpine has been charged, and his case has not yet come to court. However, they have just been handed an opportunity to speak out about the erosion of freedom of speech under successive Labour governments. Somehow, I can't see them taking it. I suspect that they are scared that they'd be accused of being libertarians. Or something like that.