A disproportionate interference


Police officers unlawfully interfered with a man’s right to freedom of expression by turning up at his place of work to speak to him about allegedly “transphobic” tweets, the high court has ruled.

Harry Miller, a former police officer who founded the campaign group Fair Cop, said the actions of Humberside police had a “substantial chilling effect” on his right to free speech.

Miller, 54 and from Lincolnshire, claims an officer told him he had not committed a crime, but that his tweeting was being recorded as a “hate incident”.

At this point in the story I always pause to think about the torrents of abuse that have been poured over women on Twitter, with neither the police nor Twitter giving the tiniest fuck about any of it.

The College of Policing’s guidance defines a transgender hate incident as “any non-crime incident which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice against a person who is transgender or perceived to be transgender”.

In a ruling on Friday, the high court in London found the actions of Humberside police were a “disproportionate interference” with Miller’s right to freedom of expression.

But he said the College of Police guidance was fine. So…I guess everything is a hate incident if someone says so, but that’s not necessarily a good enough reason to show up at people’s jobs and wreck their lives.

The judge said: “The claimants’ tweets were lawful and there was not the slightest risk that he would commit a criminal offence by continuing to tweet.

“I find the combination of the police visiting the claimant’s place of work, and their subsequent statements in relation to the possibility of prosecution, were a disproportionate interference with the claimant’s right to freedom of expression because of their potential chilling effect.”

In his judgment, Knowles stated: “I conclude that the police left the claimant with the clear belief that he was being warned by them to desist from posting further tweets on transgender matters even if they did not directly warn him in terms.

“In other words, I conclude that the police’s actions led him, reasonably, to believe that he was being warned not to exercise his right to freedom of expression about transgender issues on pain of potential criminal prosecution.”

Kate Scottow, on the other hand, lost her case.

Today’s judgement was a hard sight to bear: a 39-year-old mother of two children, one of whom is autistic, listened as the judge at St Albans Magistrates’ Court found her guilty, under the Communications Act (2003), of using a public communications network to “cause annoyance, inconvenience and anxiety”.

Again, I pause to think of the torrents of abuse that have been poured over women on Twitter, with neither the police nor Twitter giving the tiniest fuck about any of it. Real abuse, sustained abuse, deliberate calculated repeated over weeks and months abuse – which is apparently just what women have to expect if they talk in public.

The verdict means Kate Scottow is unlikely to be able to fulfil her ambition of becoming a forensic psychologist, after completing her master’s degree in the subject last year.

Her crime? To send some offensive tweets to a trans woman called Stephanie Hayden. These included describing Hayden as a “pig in a wig” and referring to Hayden as “he” or “him”. 

Note that the president of the United States does worse than that almost every day.

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