A couple of weeks ago we wrote to the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police, John Robins, outlining our concerns about the arrest of a 16 year-old autistic girl on suspicion of committing a ‘hate crime’ for telling a female officer: “You look like my lesbian nana.”
It’s good to see that Mr Robins has now responded – hours after receiving our letter, he did the right thing and announced that West Yorkshire Police had released the girl and was dropping its investigation (Telegraph).
As we pointed out in our letter, the fact that an arrest was made in the first place raises serious concerns about officers’ lack of understanding of free speech.
According to West Yorkshire Police, the girl was arrested for a “homophobic public order offence”.
However, the girl’s behaviour simply doesn’t meet the threshold for an offence under the Public Order Act. The WPC at the centre of this incident may well have felt irritated or insulted by the girl’s remark. But there’s no evidence that the comment was malicious, and irritation is not grounds for the arrest of an autistic child.
In addition, the comment was made in her own home and, as far as we can tell from the video, the police officer was also in her home at the time.
As per the Public Order Act, a defence if a person is accused of “intentional harassment, alarm or distress” is that the accused was “inside a dwelling and had no reason to believe that the words or behaviour used… would be heard or seen by a person outside that or any other dwelling”.
Since the exchange between the girl and the female officer took place inside the girl’s home, that defence is applicable in this case.
We also expressed concern about the possibility that a non-crime hate incident (or NCHI) had been recorded against the girl’s name.
Although the case against the girl has now been closed, we are seeking assurance from West Yorkshire Police that an NCHI wasn’t recorded.
As per our letter, we repeat our call for Mr Robins’s officers to now undergo training on Article 10 of the Human Rights Act 1998 to help them better understand the importance of free speech.