Girl, 14, takes on police over pupils’ right to free speech The Times

The original article is here.

Police face legal action over an attempt to record non-criminal hate incidents involving children in schools — described as having a “chilling effect” on freedom of speech.

The Times has learnt that police officers investigating hate incidents involving pupils have been told to keep a record even when they do not meet the threshold for criminal charges.

School groups and civil liberties organisations warned that the records were an Orwellian move that could penalise children for classroom discussions. Non-crime hate incidents, which can show up on criminal checks later in life, are based on the perception of a victim or others and not on evidence.

A 14-year-old schoolgirl, known only as Miss B, has threatened a judicial review of the guidance by the College of Policing, arguing that the advice creates a chilling effect on her voicing legitimate views on transgender issues.

A letter from Sinclair Law, her solicitors, to the college said: “Miss B is concerned about the possibility of having a police record potentially including details of conversations that she has had at school . . . as part of a classroom discussion. She is also concerned that this record would impact on her future career prospects if the record was identified by an enhanced DBS check. A consequence of this is that Miss B is inhibited from expressing her views freely within school and from contributing to important class debates on controversial issues.”

In the past five years forces in England and Wales have recorded 120,000 non-crime hate incidents by members of the public. This year a judge likened Humberside police to the Gestapo after they went to the workplace of Harry Miller, a former officer, who had a non-crime hate incident recorded against him for tweets about transgender people. Such incidents do not meet the criminal threshold but are perceived to be motivated by hostility or prejudice about race, religion, disability, sexual preference or transgender issues.

Guidance from the college in October said that the motivations could include “ill-will, spite, contempt, prejudice, unfriendliness, antagonism, resentment and dislike”. It tells officers to “record the incident, recording the police interactions and the results of those actions”. The guidance says that repeated name-calling or verbal abuse could be harassment.

Miss B, a 14-year-old pupil with auditory processing disorder and dyslexia, is gender critical and believes that sex is distinct from gender identity. She respects transgender students at school but does not understand them, and is “frightened” about speaking openly.

Sinclair Law’s letter said vaguely defining hostility to include the perception of “dislike” was “alarmingly broad”.

It said Miss B, who was at a high risk of misunderstanding others or being misunderstood due to her disability, could suffer consequences even if she had no intention of demonstrating hostility or prejudice towards anyone.

The College of Policing said the guidance aimed to help forces “in how to best preserve freedom of speech while protecting people from crime”.

“An incident may be the precursor to more serious actions or crime and, while not all incidents will escalate this way, it is only by recording concerns that police can assess the seriousness.”

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