Weekly news round-up

Welcome to the FSU’s weekly newsletter, our round-up of the free speech news of the week. As with all our work, this newsletter depends on the support of our members and donors, so if you’re not already a paying member please sign up today or encourage a friend to join and help turn the tide against cancel culture. You can share our newsletters on social media with the buttons at the bottom of this email. If someone has shared this newsletter with you and you’d like to join the FSU, you can find our website here.

Free speech victory — Home Secretary introduces new non-crime hate incident guidance!

The FSU is delighted that the Home Secretary has published new draft guidance on the recording and retention of ‘non-crime hate incidents’ (or NCHIs) (Epoch Times, Mail, Sun, Telegraph, Times). We have been campaigning against the recording of NCHIs by the police for three years and although Suella Braverman hasn’t done away with the practice altogether, this is a huge step forward. Under the new Code of Practice, the police will have to exercise common sense and have due regard to the right to freedom of expression before recording an NCHI.

Members and supporters of the FSU should give themselves a pat on the back. Without your solidarity, this would not have been possible.

As the new draft Code of Practice says, “All efforts should be made [by officers] to avoid a chilling effect on free speech (including, but not limited to, lawful debate, humour, satire and personally held views).”

We don’t think people realise just how many NCHIs have been recorded in England and Wales since the College of Policing (CoP) first came up with the concept in its Hate Crime Operational Guidance in 2014.

That document made it mandatory for the police to record any report of a ‘hate incident’ as an NCHI, often in such a way that it can show up against a person’s name if an employer asks to see an enhanced criminal record check before offering them a job. In the five years following the publication of the CoP’s guidance, we estimate more than 250,000 NCHIs have been recorded by police forces in England and Wales. That’s an average of 66 per day. Little wonder, then, that the police don’t have time to send an officer round to your house if you report a burglary.

We should stress that we’re not talking about attempts to stir up hatred on the grounds of race, religion or sexual orientation or people hurling racial abuse at football players on Twitter. Those are actual hate crimes, prohibited by law. The records we’re talking about are ‘non-crimes’, i.e., comparatively trivial episodes that, for the most part, the police should not be wasting their time on – such as a trans activist complaining about someone ‘misgendering’ them on Twitter.

So this new Code of Practice is long overdue. Not only does it caution police officers to think very carefully before recording an NCHI against a person’s name, but it instructs them not to record them against schoolchildren. That’s particularly important because, unlike actual crimes, ‘non-crimes’ aren’t automatically removed from a child’s record when they reach the age of 18.

“Even where the speech is potentially offensive, a person has the right to express personally-held views in a lawful manner,” it says. “This includes the right to engage in legitimate debate on political speech or speech discussing political or social issues where this is likely to be strong differences of opinion.”

Two people deserve special credit for this massive win.

First, the ex-copper Harry Miller, who had an NCHI recorded against his name in 2019 when a trans activist complained about him tweeting a comic verse about transwomen. Harry took Humberside Police and the CoP to court – first to the High Court, then to the Court of Appeal, backed by the FSU – and his courageous battle against this unlawful interference in his free speech has helped to win this victory (Guardian).

Second, the Conservative peer Lord Moylan. We worked closely with him – as well as Lord Pannick, Lord Sandhurst and Lord Macdonald of River Glaven – to secure an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 which gave the Home Secretary the option to bring forward a Statutory Instrument containing a Code of Practice putting the recording and retention of NCHIs on a statutory footing. That is the option that Suella Braverman availed herself on Monday – without that amendment, she wouldn’t be able to issue the new guidance.

As our General Secretary, Toby Young pointed out in The Spectator, the Home Secretary should be congratulated for striking a blow in defence of free speech this week, but there’s more work to be done.

For instance, once the Code of Practice has been given the Parliamentary stamp of approval, all the police forces in England and Wales will have to wade through the 250,000+ NCHIs in their databases and remove any that wouldn’t merit being recorded under the new guidelines, which we believe is the vast majority. Consequently, if you think an NCHI has been recorded against your name please contact us and we can start the process of getting it removed. You can see some guidance we’ve already published about that here. (And you can also read our 2021 briefing on NCHIs here.)

‘That’s debatable’ – FSU launches new podcast

We’re very excited to launch our new podcast, That’s Debatable!, with dispatches from the frontline of the free speech wars, co-hosted by Tom Harris and Ben Jones, two members of the FSU’s staff. If you’re too busy to wade through this newsletter, it’s another way to keep up with the free speech news of the week.

In the first episode, ‘Pitchforks and Pronouns’, Tom and Ben discuss our recent victory over ‘non-crime hate incidents’, the aftershocks of Quran-gate, sensitivity readers, St. Gary of Broadcasting House and more.

Ben’s day job as deputy director of the cases team is to help our members who get into trouble for speaking their minds, and Tom, our data director, sees the facts and figures that prove how big the free speech crisis is. The team will discuss the free speech issues of the week, answer your questions, and let you know what we’re doing to fight back. The podcast will come out each Tuesday and will shortly be available on all the major podcasting platforms. In the meantime, you can listen here.

Online Speakeasy with Simon Fanshawe – special offer for FSU members!

The FSU is delighted to announce that on Tuesday 18th April our General Secretary, Toby Young, will be joined in conversation at an exclusive, members-only Online Speakeasy with writer and broadcaster Simon Fanshawe OBE.

Simon has had a career that stretches from being an award-winning comic (Perrier Award 1989) to a Sunday Times feature writer, as well as a broadcaster and columnist. He is the author of the best-selling book The Power of Differencewhich brings together his own experiences and the latest research to explain why inclusion is more than just being nice to people, why unconscious bias training isn’t the fix we need and why listening to all individual voices, not assuming that different groups of people have a single homogenous viewpoint, is key.

He co-founded Diversity by Design in 2010 and is Number 2 on HR Magazine’s 2022 list of most original thinkers. As a consultant he works with companies to celebrate difference and create true inclusion. But he is a diversity dissident. He thinks it’s a remarkable irony that ‘diversity’ is too often used as a tool of conformity, enforced by the weaponizing of offence.  Inclusion, he says, has been turned inside out and now seems to mean that “you have to think like this, speak like this and behave like this. And if you don’t, we’ll exclude you.”

He is also now “the wrong kind of gay”. Not only does he think that biological sex matters and you can’t make good law based on subjective feelings but, having been one of the six co-founders of Stonewall, he has been publicly critical of their ‘no debate’ approach which he believes dishonours the legacy of the way equality for lesbians and gays was achieved between 1989 and 2014. 

This is an online event and FSU members will be sent a link separately so they can attend via Zoom – look out for the email, as this is going to be a great discussion! You can find out more about the event here.

We’re also delighted to have arranged a special offer on Simon’s book, The Power of Difference, for FSU Members. Use the discount code ‘FHR20’ to receive a 20% discount when you click here and order from Kogan Page Ltd. The discount is valid on the paperback, hardback, eBook or the paperback/eBook bundle.

Charity Commission to investigate mosque at centre of school Quran row following FSU intervention

Jamia Masjid Swafia, the Wakefield mosque at the centre of a row about a Quran being accidentally damaged at a local secondary school is now being investigated by the charities watchdog (Times). This is a significant regulatory intervention on behalf of free speech, freedom of expression and the separation of religion from civil affairs – and it’s thanks to the FSU. 

Members may recall that last week we wrote to West Yorkshire Police asking them to remove the ‘non-crime hate incidents’ that had been recorded against the names of four boys at Kettlethorpe High School in Wakefield after one of the boys, a 14 year-old who is on the autistic spectrum, brought a copy of the Quran into school and accidentally dropped it, causing minor damage (MailTimes). In a completely disproportionate response, the police decided to treat this episode as a ‘hate incident’ and recorded it as such. You can read that letter here.

Last week we followed up with a letter to Helen Stephenson, the CEO of the Charity Commission, asking her to open an investigation into Jamia Masjid Swafia after video footage emerged of one of the boy’s mothers appearing there shortly after the episode, dressed in a Muslim headscarf, seemingly in an effort to protect her son, who had been receiving death threats. Our letter urging the Charity Commission to open an investigation into the mosque is available here.

Writing in The Times, Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, described this meeting as “look[ing] more like a sharia law trial, inappropriately held at a mosque instead of a neutral setting”.

The FSU has reviewed the footage posted on social media and it’s pretty alarming.

While the boy’s mother sat on a panel, modestly bowing her head, the Imam warned that the Muslim community wouldn’t tolerate any disrespect shown to the Quran and if necessary would defend its honour with their lives. “When it comes to the honour of the Quran we will stand and we will defend the honour of the Quran no matter what it takes,” he said. “The slightest bit of disrespect [to the Quran] is not accepted and it is not going to be tolerated at any point, in any city, in any country by any Muslim and that’s the fact of the matter.” He continued:

The difficulty that we have in this incident is that these are not adults that have carried out this act. Had it been, for example, a teacher who had disrespected the holy Quran – had it been, let’s say, an adult that had thrown the holy Quran – then the matter would be different. We probably wouldn’t be sitting in the [mosque] right now, we’d probably be standing outside that school and voicing our concerns without any doubt whatsoever.

As we pointed out in our letter to the Charity Commission, the Jamia Masjid Swafia mosque is a registered charity and we think these remarks constitute a breach of one of the mosque’s charitable objects, namely, “promoting good community relations and cohesion between Muslims and non-Muslims”.

Responding to our letter, a Charity Commission spokeswoman confirmed to The Times that the organisation has “opened a regulatory compliance case to assess concerns raised with us about Jamia Masjid Swafia”. She added: “We are carefully considering the issues raised to determine our next steps.” If it believes there are grounds for further investigation, it could begin a statutory inquiry.

Dis-/misinformation and the freedom to dissent – book your tickets here!

So-called dis- and misinformation have been singled out by many governments, institutions, charities, and commercial businesses as threats to democracy that require widespread censorship. But is this a genuine concern, or just an excuse to suppress dissenting points of view on issues like the Covid lockdowns, mRNA vaccines, the war in Ukraine, climate change, drag queen story hour and 15 minute cities? And even if the threat is real and the concern is genuine, how can we trust these agencies to accurately identify dis- and misinformation?

The FSU is bringing together a panel of experts to discuss these issues, including the Director of Big Brother Watch Silkie Carlo, writer and broadcaster Timandra Harkness, and two people identified by a 77th Brigade whistle-blower as having been flagged for disseminating ‘misinformation’ about the Government’s pandemic response – the journalist Peter Hitchens and our General Secretary, who will be chairing the discussion.

Why not join us to discuss what lessons we should learn about how to counter the ‘Censorship-Industrial Complex’ and defend the freedom to dissent?

In-person tickets for the event are now sold out, but you can join the waiting list in case places become available. Alternatively, if you’re an FSU member you can use the Zoom option to attend virtually – please register using the Zoom link supplied in recent emails from FSU events, or by clicking here.

Comedy Unleashed in Leeds – discounted tickets available to FSU members!

If you can get to Leeds on Friday 7th April, we are delighted to offer a special FSU members’ discount for a fabulous night of comedy with FSU Advisory Council member Andrew Doyle and others. Having consistently sold out shows in London for the past five years, Comedy Unleashed is bringing its refreshing brand of politically incorrect stand-up comedy to The HiFi Club in Leeds. For tickets, click here and enter the discount code ‘SAMIZDAT’.

Dr David Starkey on the King’s Coronation – book your tickets here!

FSU members keen on hearing Dr David Starkey’s thoughts about – among other things – the upcoming coronation of King Charles III, can enjoy free hospitality in central London on 4th April at a live event, compliments of the British-Hungarian Society. The Q&A following Dr Starkey’s talk will be moderated by our own Toby Young. This is an opportunity not to be missed. Dr Starkey is Britain’s pre-eminent historian of the monarchy, and no better authority exists to examine the richly evolving tapestry of meaning, ritual, and constitutional significance brought to the fore by the upcoming coronation of His Majesty the King – a spectacle not witnessed by the world for 70 years. However, places at the talk are limited and reserving a spot is essential, which you can do by clicking here.

Karen Sunderland’s fundraiser reaches target – trial will begin later this month!

Thanks to the generous support of our members and supporters, Karen Sunderland’s legal fundraiser has just reached its £20,000 stretch target!

Karen is suing her former employer after falling victim to ‘offence archaeology’. In 2018, when Karen was a Conservative candidate in the local elections, iNews dug up some tweets she’d posted in 2017 and managed to get her suspended by the party. The tweets reflected her sincere belief that aspects of Islamic doctrine are illiberal and unfair to women.

Four years later, when Karen was embarking on a new career, someone tipped off her employer about this episode and she was fired. Karen believes her comments were protected political speech – she was merely expressing her conservative beliefs – and her dismissal was unfair and discriminatory.

We funded the initial stages of litigation, including an inconclusive preliminary hearing on whether Karen’s beliefs are protected by the Equality Act 2010. The fact that the fundraiser has reached its stretch target is important because it will allow that matter, along with the rest of Karen’s claim, to be considered in a four-day trial starting on 28th March. She is being represented by Francis Hoar, one of England’s best barristers when it comes to freedom of speech cases and party-political matters.

Establishing that conservatism is a protected belief would bring balance to the law: while there is case law protecting the belief in democratic socialism there are no equivalent protections for its right-wing counterpart. If Karen succeeds in winning this argument, the judgement would protect employees with conservative views which, while wholly lawful, are often distasteful to HR officers.

In addition to arguing that her dismissal was either directly or indirectly because of her belief in conservatism, Karen’s claim makes another important legal argument, namely, that she was dismissed because of her belief in freedom of speech. A finding that freedom of speech is a protected belief would give legal protection to other employees who manifest that belief by speaking their minds and testing received wisdom.

You can read the heartening comments posted to the fundraising page by donors by clicking here.

In Conversation – Meghan Murphy

Earlier this month, Toby was joined by writer and journalist Meghan Murphy at an exclusive, members-only Online Speakeasy to discuss a wide range of topics including Meghan’s banishment from Twitter for saying that transwomen aren’t women, the case of anti-abortion campaigner Isabel Vaughan-Spruce who was arrested for standing silently in a street near an abortion clinic in Birmingham, and the free speech implications of gender self-id. The video is available in full on our YouTube channel – the link is here.