Police are criminalising opinions, say campaigners, by Andrew Gilligan, The Sunday Times 12.05.19

The original article is here.

People warned by the police over comments they made about transgender issues are launching a pressure group and legal action next week, challenging “Big Brother interference” with their free speech rights.

The Fair Cop campaign is headed by Harry Miller, 54, from Lincolnshire, who was visited at work in January by Humberside police for retweeting a limerick that said trans women had silicone breasts. The force admitted there was no crime, but described it as a “hate incident” and said it would be monitoring Miller’s and his wife’s social media accounts.

Others involved include the Father Ted writer Graham Linehan, who was given a police warning after getting into a row with a trans activist on Twitter; the journalist Caroline Farrow, who was threatened with an interview under caution for “misgendering” a trans person; and Kate Scottow, who was arrested in front of her children and held in a cell for seven hours after referring to a transgender woman as a man.

Miller said: “ We’ve come together over the police’s attempts to criminalise people for expressing opinions, even though they don’t contravene any laws.”

Miller, a former policeman, is also suing Humberside and the National College of Policing (NCP) over its definition of 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”.

The definition states that “hate incidents” must be recorded “irrespective of whether there is any evidence to identify the hate element”. It says police should not “overreact” lest they become “vulnerable to civil legal action or criticism in the media”.

Miller and the campaign want the definition withdrawn, but would like to help produce an alternative that recognises “citizens’ freedom of expression while continuing to provide robust protection against real crimes that are truly motivated by hatred”.

The force defended its action against Miller as “proportionate” and said it had spoken to him after being passed “more than 30 tweets of a transphobic nature, not just a liked or retweeted limerick”. These included tweets saying that trans women were not women.

“What they’ve told me since is, we’re not saying you can’t say trans women aren’t women, but why would you [want to] when it upsets people?” Miller said. “Well, I said it because it’s a biological fact.”

A NCP spokesman said: “Hate incidents can cause extreme distress and be the precursor to more serious actions or crime.”