Reprehensible, abhorrent, dispicable… criminal?

After being convicted and imprisoned for four months at Minshull Street Crown Court, what he daubed on his T-shirt was described by police as ‘morally reprehensible‘.  No one denies what Barry Thew wrote and then paraded around Radcliffe was grossly offensive.  Many people will agree his actions were appalling, odious even.

This follows on from the jailing for three months of Matthew Woods for ‘abhorrent’ and ‘dispicable‘ comments made about missing children Madeleine McCann and April Jones, after he pleaded guilty in court.

But in jailing Thew for ‘a public order offence’ and Woods for ‘sending a message or other matter that is grossly offensive by means of a public electronic communications network’, the powers that be have gone too in criminalising expressions and viewpoints that, while disgusting and probably demonstrating severely warped minds, incite neither violence nor any other crime.

Quietly over the years the constraints on speech that were designed to prevent incitement to engage in criminal actions have been altered to fold in words that offend.  No matter how much outrage and upset we feel about the views and comments people like Thew and Woods decide to spew forth, what we are seeing is increasing restriction and a disturbing erosion of an individual’s freedom of expression.

While in itself this erosion may seem like no bad thing in the case of Thew and Woods, we should be feeling real concern about how further restrictions and erosions may be applied in order to criminalise normal and necessary dissent against the authorities, or even a supposed consensus view on an issue.

These two episodes show we do not have a free society where no one has the right to not be offended, but an increasingly authoritarian and paternalist society where periodical fits of morality – that phrase to beautifully turned by Thomas Macauley to describe the ridiculousness of the public getting on its high horse to exhibit virtue – among members of the public are seized upon by ‘the powers that be’ to further curtail essential rights and freedoms.

Sending these grotesque specimens to prison for what they have thought and said, when people convicted of offences against the person such as assault, or who kill people through poor or dangerous driving, are allowed to retain their liberty should be sounding warning bells.  The State is more concerned about going after people for their thoughts than going after those who commit harmful and criminal acts.  It’s an injustice.  But it is also a very real danger.

13 Responses to “Reprehensible, abhorrent, dispicable… criminal?”

  1. 1 Furor Teutonicus 11/10/2012 at 10:31 pm

    XX Quietly over the years the constraints on speech that were designed to prevent incitement to engage in criminal actions have been altered to fold in words that offend.XX

    Not really. Things like “Let him have it!”, or “Go and put your foot through that shop window!” for example were/are clearly an incitement to murder/criminal damage, and are dealt with as such, as incitement to a criminal act.

    What you have in Britain today is a totaly new concept. It is the “criminalisation” of slander, liable, and oh HEL, what was it called now….? offensive words, (Although there WERE only two F*ck and c*nt) with the descrimination act being thrown in on top.

    It is PURE “Newspeak.” whereby, using “Old speak” (So to speak…:-$ ) now carries a prison penalty. Not even Orwell thought it through to THAT conclusion.

  2. 2 james higham 11/10/2012 at 10:37 pm

    Quietly over the years the constraints on speech that were designed to prevent incitement to engage in criminal actions have been altered to fold in words that offend.

    Oh yes – thin edge of the wedge all right.

  3. 3 Joe Public 11/10/2012 at 10:38 pm

    Azhar Ahmed’s actions were ‘morally reprehensible‘. They were grossly offensive, too.

    But he is fined only £300 and will have to do 240 hours of community service over a two-year period.

    Where’s the Equality and Human Rights Commission when a white, anglo-saxon male needs it?

  4. 4 officialaccountabilityCharlotte Peters Rock 12/10/2012 at 12:00 am

    Being ‘morally reprehensible’ sems to warrant a fine of £300. So why, when my father Ralph Winstanley was deliberately killed in Doncaster, was no one even fined?

  5. 5 Andrew Duffin 12/10/2012 at 8:35 am

    I find Che Guevara t-shirts offensive and despicable, do you think I can get those naive idiots fined or imprisoned?

  6. 6 Andy Baxter 12/10/2012 at 9:27 am

    good to see you back in the saddle AM;

    terrifying analysis and spot on, there are ways to combat these attacks on liberty of expression even within a court room, where one can be ‘untouchable’by TPTB via effective use of the very same tool one has been brought before them for; language, linguistic chess if you like and its very effective if one knows how to respond appropriately to the charade of being in court for speaking ones mind. Too long to explain here but happy to share with people who find themselves in sucha situation.

  7. 7 James Morrison 12/10/2012 at 9:38 am

    It is indeed the thin edge of the wedge, and it will tangle itself up in a web of confusing and unanswerable questions and inconsistencies. But that is the idea, it is the means by which opinions which do not follow the concensus can be silenced.

    – Who decides what is offensive as opposed to “criminally offensive”? Is there a panel somewhere which sits in judgement? On whose authority?
    – Is it dependant on the offended person and their race/religion/age?
    – Does offending a muslim trump offending a Christian? (a rhetorical question if ever there was one)
    – What would determine that what they said is offensive to the point of criminality?
    – Should we consider the timing and context? Would Mr Woods’ comments about April and Madelaine have been considered so criminally offensive if they referred only to Madelaine and had been made at a time when a child’s tragic disappearance wasn’t at the top of every news agenda?

    Regulation and laws cannot (and almost certainly will not) change what someone thinks, and there should be NO curbs on what people can say. As much as I should have the right to be offended, so you should have the right to offend me.

    A good example is racialism. As much as I abhor it, silencing this (or any) point of view will do nothing to eradicate it. Rather it will just drive it underground where it will be allowed to fester and grow. I’d much rather people were freely allowed to express their opinions, so that we have the opportunity to debate them, and see if we can’t change their minds.

    As loathe as I am to use footballing examples, John Terry was hauled through the courts on the basis of a remark which no-one has ever actually heard him say, and which no-one attending (or playing in) the match complained about. Rather it was reported by someone who happened to be watching it on TV with no idea of the context. For this, several hundred thousand pounds of taxpayer’s money was spent on legal proceedings for which the maximum fine was £2,500. All this for his alledged use of one word, “black”.

    As an aside, I loved the Grauniad’s editorial on the subject. They sanctimoniously preached how obscene and offensive Terry’s remarks were, whilst repeating them in full – unredacted – 4 times in the article. I wonder, were they just repeating what they thought they heard someone say, or were they being racialist and offensive?

    Free speech has truly been eradicated.

  8. 8 sadbutmadlad 12/10/2012 at 10:50 am

    It’s the usual pick on the hard cases to make bad law. These two cases of extreme free speech are easy to categorise and persuade everyone to think that it is right and proper to lock them up for their views. I mean, how could anyone view that what they said is in any way right. But that’s the point, you don’t allow these hard cases to get through because the next time the next case will be just a little bit less extreme. And over time we end up with not much being allowed at all. Not a deliberate policy or conspiracy but just the way things go. That’s why you should allow extreme views. Even those of the Muslim extremists who shout during Remembrance services. Because then if you ban them, they can easily ban you from shouting them down there rallies where they call for the banning of a youtube video.

  9. 9 officialaccountabilityCharlotte Peters Rock 12/10/2012 at 12:04 pm

    The sheep will ‘bah’ and follow this line.. because as they chew their gobbets and soundbytes, they are told they must.

    It is a very sad reflection on more than a century of ‘education’ that ordinary people do not begin to stand up for their right to be.. nor even realise that they have such a right.

    Having learned to read, do they not read? And reading, do they not understand? No probably not. There is not much reading matter in the Sun and the Mirror – the so-called quality papers operate a strict censorship – and the ones in the middle tell only pretty stories.. with make-up on.

    Anyone who has been involved in any element of justice – will I am certain – be fully aware that ‘examples’ are made of ordinary people – by the all conquering (and mainly corrupt) ‘state’ – which gives the rest of the flock both a line above which it is told to aim, and a salutary lesson if they should try to buck the trend.

    That we are in such an anti-democratic place in the 21st century, is tragic.

    The worst aspect of it is that mostly people do not realise..

  10. 10 Furor Teutonicus 12/10/2012 at 1:02 pm

    XX The worst aspect of it is that mostly people do not realise..XX

    Or even WORSE, they do not CARE!

    Head, ostrich, sand springs to mind.

  11. 11 john in cheshire 12/10/2012 at 1:32 pm

    What’s needed is a mass of people (sadly, I’m not one of them) to parade around our cities wearing the same t-shirts as this man wore, demanding to be arrested and brought before the courts. I reckon if there were several tens, let alone hundreds, of similar cases, they would all immediately be dropped and perhaps our public servants would think twice about how they treat their paymasters. It is perhaps the Spartacus option.

  12. 12 Dave_G 14/10/2012 at 9:56 am

    You ask…”Where is the justice?” I ask “Where was his lawyer?” and what the fcuk was he doing allowing the courts to convict in this way? Are the lawyers in on it too?

  1. 1 Where is the justice? « Autonomous Mind Trackback on 13/10/2012 at 5:31 pm
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