On 7th October, the journalist and Brexit campaigner Darren Grimes received an email from a Metropolitan Police officer notifying him that he was being investigated for the crime of stirring up racial hatred under the Public Order Act 1986 and asking him to submit himself for an interview at Kingston Police Station under caution. This was because of a broadcast interview Darren had done with Dr David Starkey at the end of June in which the historian had used the phrase “damn blacks”.
This was an unprecedented attack on the freedom of the press. Dr Starkey’s remarks didn’t come anywhere near meeting the threshold for stirring up racial hatred – he was using the word “damn” for emphasis, not to condemn black people, and he praised the contributions BAME people had made to British society in the same interview. But even if they did meet the threshold, that’s no reason to investigate Darren. Are journalists now going to be held criminally responsible if the people they interview say something potentially unlawful? On 2nd February, I appeared on Good Morning Britain to debate Kehinde Andrews, a Professor of Black Studies at Birmingham University. In the course of that debate, he said “the British Empire did more harm than the Nazis” and whiteness was a form of “psychosis”. Are the Metropolitan Police now going to arrest Piers Morgan for interviewing Professor Andrews on the grounds that his remarks could have stirred up hatred against white people?
Luckily, Darren is a member of the Free Speech Union so I was able to find him a top criminal solicitor in the form of Luke Gittos. In addition, I helped Darren publicise his case and before long he’d attracted support from across the political spectrum, including Sajid Javid, the ex-Home Secretary, Tim Farron, the former leader of the Lib Dems, and Ash Sarkar, the left-wing activist.
A few days later, it was David Starkey’s turn to be summoned for a police interview. He, too, is a member of the Free Speech Union, so I asked Luke to represent him as well. As before, most commentators expressed astonishment at the heavy-handedness of the police. Dr Starkey had apologised unreservedly for his remarks and paid a heavy price, losing his Cambridge fellowship, giving up a visiting professorship at Canterbury Christ Church University and having his book contract cancelled by HarperCollins. Would he really have to suffer the humiliation of a police interview as well?
Only Keir Starmer refused to condemn the police. “I think it does sometimes have to involve the police,” he told LBC presenter Nick Ferrari. “There has got to be a level of tolerance of course, but there is a line which can be crossed, and it’s very important that it is investigated, and in some cases prosecutions. When people go over the line it’s right that it’s investigated.”
But I’m not sure there is a “line”, which suggests a standard that applies to everybody. Rather, the police were invoking the Public Order Act to curtail the speech rights of some, but not others. On 22nd June, a Cambridge academic called Dr Priyamvada Gopal tweeted “White Lives Don’t Matter” and “Abolish whiteness” and shortly afterwards liked a tweet saying “whites” are a “disease that needs to be cleansed from the earth”. I don’t think Dr Gopal should be investigated for these remarks any more than David Starkey should be for his. But if the police genuinely believe Dr Starkey may be guilty of stirring up racial hatred, why not Dr Gopal? It suggests the law is being applied arbitrarily to silence people on the right, but not on the left.
After Luke Gittos and the FSU had mounted a robust defence and succeeded in whipping up a public outcry, the police announced they had turned the investigation over to a “senior officer” for “review” and in the meantime Darren and David would no longer have to submit themselves for interview. This looked like the beginning of a climbdown, and so it proved to be. A week later, the police said they were dropping the investigation against both of them. Their ordeal was over.
I was relieved for Darren Grimes and David Starkey – the maximum penalty for stirring up racial hatred is seven years in jail – but concerned that things might have turned out differently if they hadn’t been members of the FSU. For every one person we’re able to defend, there are 99 people who are defenceless when the authorities come after them. The police need to stop abusing the law to try and regulate speech and debate. It’s not their job to investigate thought crimes.
The Law Commission
One of the most alarming things about the police’s behaviour in this case is that the Law Commission of England and Wales is currently consulting about extending the offence of stirring up hatred so it applies to every “protected” characteristic, not just race, religion or sexual orientation. At present, the law recognises two other protected characteristics in addition to those three: disability and transgender status. So if the Law Commission gets its way, JK Rowling could be investigated for stirring up hatred against transgendered people because she objects to changing the definition of woman to encompass transwomen. That may sound far fetched, but the police have just revealed how trigger happy they are when it comes to investigating a ‘stirring up hatred’ complaint. But it gets worse. Not only is the Law Commission proposing to change the law so you can be sent to jail for stirring up hatred against people who are in any of these five categories, it also wants to increase the number of protected characteristics to include sex and gender, non-binary people, asexuals, humanists, sex workers and members of “alternative subcultures” such as goths. So in future, if a punk rocker says they hate goths, they could find themselves under investigation by the police.
But it’s even worse than that. As things stand, in order to convict someone of stirring up hatred, the Crown Prosecution Service has to prove they intended to do so. The Law Commission wants to dispense with this tiresome restriction. In future, it proposes, a person should be liable for prosecution if a tweet or blog post is likely to stir up hatred against any members of these groups, regardless of intent. So if you innocently refer to a trans activist as “he”, not realising the person in question identifies as a woman, you could be facing up to seven years in jail.
And, incredibly, the Law Commission doesn’t stop there. It also wants people to be liable for prosecution if they say something likely to stir up hatred in the privacy of their own home. It argues that if you can be guilty of inciting someone to commit a crime in your home – which you can – then it’s perfectly reasonable to prosecute people for saying something politically incorrect at the dinner table or in the bedroom.
Andrew Tettenborn, a Professor of Law at Swansea University and a member of our Legal Advisory Council, is pulling together a response to this proposal on behalf of the FSU which we intend to submit to the Law Commission next month. I will post it on the website as soon as we’ve handed it in. The Scottish Hate Crime Bill is bad, as we pointed out in our submission to the Scottish Parliament, but this is even worse.
Attempt to Cancel Professor Backfires
A couple of weeks ago I asked you to sign a petition in support of Bruce Gilley, a Professor at Portland State who’d been cancelled for the second time in three years. In 2017, the editors of Third World Quarterly, an academic journal, started getting death threats after publishing an essay by Professor Gilley called “The Case For Colonialism” and promptly deleted it from their website. Then, the same thing happened again. He has written a book about Sir Alan Burns, a post-war colonial governor who argued that Britain was decolonising too quickly, that was due to be published by Rowman & Littlefield this month. However, the publishers have now decided not to go ahead after a petition objecting to the book was started by another academic. Professor Gilley wrote about the episode for the Wall St Journal.
Well, I’m happy to say that hundreds of you signed that petition and, partly as a result, several publishers offered to publish Professor Gilley’s book, including a member of the FSU. He now has a new publisher and his biography of Sir Alan Burns will come out shortly.
Equalities Minister Intervenes in Debate over Schools Promoting Critical Race Theory
Kemi Badenoch MP, the Equalities Minister, made the Government’s position on Critical Race Theory clear in a debate about the teaching of politically contentious issues in schools in Parliament last week.
I want to be absolutely clear. This Government stands unequivocally against Critical Race Theory. Some schools have decided to openly support the anti-capitalist Black Lives Matter group often fully aware that they have a statutory duty to be politically impartial. Black lives do matter, of course they do. But we know the Black Lives Matter movement – capital B, capital L, capital M – is political… It is a political movement and what would be nice would be for members on the opposite side to condemn… this political movement instead of pretending that it is a completely wholesome anti-racist movement. There is a lot of pernicious stuff being pushed and we stand against that. We do not want to see teachers teaching their white pupils about white privilege and inherited racial guilt. And let me be clear: any school which teaches these elements of Critical Race Theory as fact or which promotes partisan political views such as defunding the police without offering a balanced treatment of opposing views is breaking the law.
We would urge any of our members who are concerned about the promotion of Critical Race Theory in schools, whether they’re parents or teachers, to draw the attention of headteachers and school governors to this speech and remind them of their duties under the Education Act 1996. Section 406 prohibits “the promotion of partisan political views in the teaching of any subject in the school” and s.407 says that “where political issues are brought to the attention of pupils” they should be “offered a balanced presentation of opposing views”. As Ms Badenoch said, if schools neglect to present pupils with opposing views, they are breaking the law. And if parents or teachers want to point headteachers towards a balanced treatment of the Black Lives Matter movement and related issues, they should reference the teaching materials the FSU has devised for precisely that purpose.
Teaching Children and their Parents about Freedom of Expression
There was a tragic reminder last weekend of just how important it is to teach children and their parents about freedom of expression when a French schoolmaster was beheaded on the streets of Paris by an Islamist terrorist after he showed the Charlie Hebdo cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad to his class. Samuel Paty had given a lesson on freedom of expression two weeks earlier in which he’d referred to the cartoons, prompting some offended parents to whip up an online hate mob. As Spiked editor Brenden O’Neill commented, “There is something especially horrific about the premeditated targeting of a teacher for doing his job – that is, encouraging his pupils to think critically.” Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Paris following the attack and President Macron strongly condemned the attack, but too few in the UK paid attention. Others tried to make excuses for the attack.
Chris Williamson No-Platformed at Royal Holloway
Another week passes, and another controversial figure is no-platformed by a university debating society. This week it’s the turn of Chris Williamson, the former Labour MP, who’s been no-platformed by Royal Holloway, part of London University. Mr Williamson was invited to address the Royal Holloway Debating Society, but the invitation was rescinded following the intervention of the President of the Students’ Union who claimed that Mr Williamson’s appearance at the Society would run afoul of the Union’s No Platform for Hate Speech policy.
I have written to Professor Paul Layzell, the Principal of Royal Holloway, pointing out that Mr Williamson isn’t in fact guilty of hate speech and that no-platforming him is a breach of his University’s Code of Practice on Freedom of Speech, as well s.43 of the Education (Nº 2) Act 1986. According to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission’s guidance on this, a higher education provider, or a student society, is within its rights not to invite a particular speaker; but once it has extended an invitation it should not then withdraw it and if it does – or if a university does nothing to restore that speaker’s invitation – it may be in breach of the Education Act. You can read my letter here.
I haven’t heard back from Professor Layzell, but I did get a reply from Kate Roberts, the President of the Students’ Union, and I have replied to her. I’m hopeful that in due course the Debating Society will reinvite Mr Williamson.
The Free Speech Union’s First Live Event!
When we launched the FSU earlier this year we planned to organise debates and speakeasies around the country – until COVID-19 put a temporary stop to that. Not to be defeated, we’ve organised two nights of comedy at the Backyard Comedy Club in Bethnal Green on Monday 2nd November and Tuesday 3rd November in collaboration with Comedy Unleashed.
Compèred by Dominic Frisby, our comedians will be Simon Evans, Andrew Lawrence and Nick Dixon. I’ve seen all three perform and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. Due to the Covid restrictions at the venue, tickets are limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis. But the good news is that once seated you won’t have to wear a mask. Further details and tickets are available by clicking on the links below:
We are selling the tickets at cost, i.e. the money we raise from ticket sales will cover the cost of organising the event and nothing more. We hope you’ll be able to join us. I’ll be there on both nights.
Triggernometry Interviews about Free Speech
Konstantin Kisin and Francis Foster, two members of our Advisory Council, produce an excellent podcast called Triggernometry in which they interview a range of people about controversial topics. Their recent interviews have included several individuals whose run-ins with the woke mob we’ve documented in this newsletter – Darren Grimes, Bruce Gilley and Nick Buckley MBE – as well as FSU directors, Prof Nigel Biggar, Inaya Folarin Iman and Douglas Murray. They’ve also interviewed me. Their podcast is well worth a listen, and can be found in all the usual places such as BitChute, YouTube or on your podcasts app.
Dr Bryn Harris Appointed Chief Legal Counsel
I’m delighted to announce that we have appointed Dr Bryn Harris to serve as the FSU’s full-time Chief Legal Counsel. Dr Harris has a DPhil in Classics from Oxford University and was called to the Bar in 2018, having done a law conversion course. Before joining the FSU, he worked at Taylor Vinters, an international firm of solicitors. We had an extremely strong field and interviewed nine shortlisted candidates, but Dr Harris stood out because of his passionate commitment to free speech. Previously, he served as Director of the Speakers’ Corner Trust.
The FSU Weekly Briefing
The free speech battles currently being fought on all fronts would require a regiment of archivists to record in full. We don’t aim to do that, but we can offer you a weekly briefing setting out the big stories of the past seven days, beginning this Friday. It’s not intended to replace this monthly newsletter, simply to give additional news and comment on stories that have caught our eye. If you don’t wish to receive this weekly briefing, you can unsubscribe using the link at the bottom of this Friday’s email, or by changing your email preferences here.
I’m closing this newsletter with some bad news. A High Court judge reviewed our application for permission to apply for a Judicial Review of Ofcom’s “coronavirus guidance” on 20th October, which we believe has inhibited debate about the Government’s response to the pandemic on the airwaves, and refused to grant it. We believe she was wrong and are applying for an oral permissions hearing where our barrister can present the case in person before a judge. That is likely to happen at some point in the next two months. This is a setback, but not the end of the road, and I remain optimistic that another judge will grant our request. We have set up a fundraiser to cover any costs arising out of this lawsuit here.
The Workers of England Union
A quick reminder that if you’re worried you might be put through a disciplinary procedure at work because your beliefs are at odds with your employer’s, then you should consider joining the Workers of England Union. The WEU has won tens of thousands of pounds for members whose philosophical beliefs have been discriminated against.
We’ve negotiated a deal with the WEU whereby you can become a member for a fee of £25. Unlike other unions, the WEU will go to bat for its members as soon as they sign up. If you’d like to take advantage of this offer, you can join online here, but don’t forget to email them here first, letting them know you’re a member of the FSU.
Thanks again for becoming a part of the Free Speech Union. Building a new membership organisation during the coronavirus crisis hasn’t been easy – and the restrictions are dragging on far longer that we’d anticipated. Among other things, we hoped to launch a pro-free speech educational programme in sixth forms and universities this autumn, but have had to postpone that. Our activities have been limited to case work, research and staff recruitment. To date we have about 6,500 members and are on target to reach 10,000 by the end of the year.