by Dan Hitchens
Monday, 22
February 2021
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17:51

Do the police know the difference between offensive and offence?

The Wirral Police have not covered themselves in glory
by Dan Hitchens
Disclaimer: being offensive is, in fact, not an offence. Credit: Merseyside Police

Farcical scenes on the Wirral, where the police have apologised for a billboard reading “BEING OFFENSIVE IS AN OFFENCE”. Superintendent Martin Earl announced that this alarming declaration “although well-intentioned was incorrect.” Earl stressed, at some length, the importance of combatting hate, the outstanding credentials of the local “Hate Crime Co-ordinators”, and so on, but made sure to “clarify that ‘being offensive’ is not in itself an offence.” Nevertheless, it raises a question: Where on earth did Wirral Police get such a strange idea in the first place?

Well, presumably from the British government. In 2018 the Home Office launched a national hate crime awareness campaign with the catchy slogan “IT’S NOT JUST OFFENSIVE. IT’S AN OFFENCE.” To be fair, there is a distinction: the Home Office only implied that some things are both offensive and an offence, whereas Wirral Police seemed to conflate the two entirely.

But this confusion runs through the recent history of policing. Take Harry Miller, who sent some robustly-worded tweets about the trans debate. He was visited by Humberside Police at his workplace and told he was responsible for a “hate incident”. Miller’s supposed offensiveness had been treated as — in effect — an offence.

The High Court ruled this treatment unlawful, and the judgment said that a “cardinal democratic freedom” was at stake. But the police guidance remained in place: if anyone alleges a “hate incident” — however implausible — it will be put down against your name. 120,000 were recorded from 2014-19. To test the system, the barrister and campaigner Sarah Phillimore carried out an experiment: after joking on Twitter that her cat was a Methodist, Phillimore asked a colleague to report this as a hate incident to South Yorkshire Police.

When [Phillimore’s colleague] was asked why he thought my comment so hateful, he replied that I meant to imply Methodists were wandering pests that defecate in people’s gardens. South Yorkshire, with a straight face, duly recorded.
- Sarah Phillimore

If you apply for a job and the employer carries out an enhanced DBS check, the police can inform them about this kind of “hate incident”. You may not even have been offensive, but you’ll still suffer the consequences.

In December, the courts made another significant ruling: Kate Scottow, who was fined £1,000 after sending some offensive messages during an online argument, had her conviction overturned. But it took a lengthy legal dispute, going all the way to the Court of Appeal, to establish that she hadn’t committed an offence. Hertfordshire Police had not grasped the distinction.

In recent years, police forces have repeatedly put people through the wringer for being — or seeming — offensive; Wirral Police’s embarrassment merely confirms the trend. So far, the government has if anything added to the confusion. Only serious reform will be able to clear it up.

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Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago

Quite frankly it has long been obvious that the police don’t know the difference between Monday and Tuesday or up and down. They seem, on the whole, to be as dumb as they are criminal. As such, I wouldn’t expect them to know the difference between ‘offensive’ and ‘offence’, and any attempt to explain it to them would only confuse them.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

The Home Office gives targets to the police and they try to follow them.

stephen f.
stephen f.
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Yes…they are just “following orders”.

Last edited 1 year ago by stephen f.
stephen f.
stephen f.
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Thumbs up.

Tom Fox
Tom Fox
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Don’t you think this post is rather ‘broad brush’, Mr bailey? Dumb? Criminal? All of them? Most of them? A minority of them?
What you say makes no sense man.

Last edited 1 year ago by Tom Fox
Peter Francis
Peter Francis
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

They seem, on the whole, to be as dumb as they are criminal. “
Oh I get it. You want to see if any of us report your comments to the constabulary on the grounds that they constitute a hate offence.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Enid Blyton was right about PC Plod.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

They seem, on the whole, to be as dumb as they are criminal.’
As the events of this week have proved.

Nick Whitehouse
Nick Whitehouse
1 year ago

Verbal hate crimes are just an attack on free speech; and as such should be dropped.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago

Unfortunately, they are with us as part of the law of the land. There was a case in the press about 10 days ago when an 86 year old woman tweeted as herself using her own photograph. She said that in her opinion, if a man was born a man, then he would always be a man. She was reported and had two calls from the police. The person who reported her gloated on Twitter about how he had sorted her out and tweeted back, ‘Luckily, you are old and you will soon die.’ She reported this but no action was taken.

Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Maybe the police don’t see telling an elderly person that with any luck they will soon die as offensive

Tom Fox
Tom Fox
1 year ago

This is likely because the old are not a protected species of person, unlike some others.

Nick Whitehouse
Nick Whitehouse
1 year ago

Has anybody in the police lost their job following this stupidity?
If not, why not?

Jonathan Marshall
Jonathan Marshall
1 year ago

They have probably been promoted.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago

All of this because the police have targets, I guess. H**e crimes are very trendy at the moment. In fact, the police seem to be focussing more on victims than on crime.

Last edited 1 year ago by Chris Wheatley
D Ward
D Ward
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

“alleged” victims

Richard Spicer
Richard Spicer
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Targets make the NHS worse so it is no surprise that they make the police do stupid things. Most NHS staff realise targets are counterproductive. Do the police think they are a good thing?

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I’m actually studying this at uni and actually have an assignment on it due today. Performance-based funding has very little real positive effect on institutions and in many works against its intended purpose. I suspect that PBF was never meant to improve anything but was instead created to justify cost-cutting.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Brian Dorsley

Defund The Police?

Steve Craddock
Steve Craddock
1 year ago

Why do we still fool ourselves that the police enforce the law. They haven’t done that for over 30 years, I think. Probably around the time target lead policing was introduced it stopped being about protecting the public and started being a simple piece work job. I am sure many will comment that there are many good policemen and only a very few bad apples. If this were actually true there would be no bad apples. The problem is we are to scared to look at what the police have really become.

Last edited 1 year ago by Steve Craddock
Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Craddock

Recently I did some work for the police and I have to choose my words – or else disappear overnight.
For me there are two types of police, those who meet the public and those in the background who are the higher ranks or administrators.
Those who meet the public are heavily involved in domestics. Usually, a woman has children by different husbands, the new man is in the house when an ‘old’ man comes to visit his child. The new man sees a rival and refuses entry to the other. A fight ensues and the police are involved, resulting in the two men being dragged away to cool down.
As a result of this, nothings happens to the two men who are later released. Meanwhile, the woman becomes a victim and is surrounded by ‘support’. And it repeats and repeats……

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Don’t worry Chris, if we notice you are missing we will report your absence to the …..Um…..
Police.

Neil John
Neil John
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Craddock

Strictly the Police’s job is prevention and if that has failed detection and submitting a file for consideration for prosecution, enforcement should be the job of the Court’s. That the whole system is broken is down to politicians and the University indoctrination system that primes those that become lawyers and senior Police officers.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago

The story of Harry Miller, who tweeted something in the Trans debate and was visited by the police, is not at all unusual. A hate incident is defined by the victim, if the victim thinks it is a hate incident, then it is.
A hate crime is when the police think that a hate incident can be made into a crime and prosecution follows.

Last edited 1 year ago by Chris Wheatley
Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

The book, Denunciation and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, (Amazon) is a great one for these times where back then an accusation of guilt by anonymous individuals was full Guilt. There was no appeal, no trial,, it was Gulag punishment if anyone made an accusation of guilt against you, even for Thought Crime. Much today is just like this where a complaint remains on ones record, and prevents one from jobs and so on for life, and is used in future investigations of accusations, baseless or not.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
1 year ago

The Wirral Constabulary really are absolute Methodists, aren’t they.

stephen f.
stephen f.
1 year ago

Anyone else find the sign offensive?

Roger Inkpen
Roger Inkpen
1 year ago
Reply to  stephen f.

Yes. And I also find your comment offensive.

stephen f.
stephen f.
1 year ago
Reply to  Roger Inkpen

Call the cops.

Paul Goodman
Paul Goodman
1 year ago

Its important to remember that offence can only be taken not given which is why none of us have the right to not be offended because it related to each individuals disposition.
I take offence at almost everything but especially the the crass ineptitude of the Police and those two nutters Elizabeth and Jane and their anti vax david Ike nonsense in the comments on the article about Israel’s vaccine success.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Goodman

Yes, I’ve just visited the article and see what you mean. They are vile.

rod tobin
rod tobin
1 year ago

great to see 4 policemen standing around doing nothing. was this
a full days work?
we should be allowed (allowed?) to say anything to anybody/company/politics as long as we accept that anybody can say anything to ourselves. sticks and stones etc.
become free and forget idiot laws.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago

Which shows you can still be nice wile doing the same thing Maoist Cultural Revolution enforcers were doing. The net end may be the same, but the path there will be more pleasant.

Last edited 1 year ago by Galeti Tavas
Stephen Pearson
Stephen Pearson
1 year ago

Surely the police have their own legal departments to help them tell the difference?

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
1 year ago

Probably just as ‘Woke’ as the people they are supposed
to be advising.

Chris Mochan
Chris Mochan
1 year ago

Be kind… or else.
The masked officer carrying a big stick reveals a lot more than they probably intended.

Guglielmo Marinaro
Guglielmo Marinaro
1 year ago

It’s interesting to know that the Merseyside Police “stand with and support the LGBTQI+ community”, since there is no such community. Its existence has never been other than imaginary.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
1 year ago

And there you’ve hit the nail on the head. These fictitious victim classes are being created so that governments can assert more control over the majority.

stephen f.
stephen f.
1 year ago

Unherd needs to loosen up the “proctor program”, as I am constantly now having comments “held for approval”, though they contain no profanity (unlike many of the essays and articles) or personal insults. It is bad enough that we can no longer see who votes-useful in any dialogue-not to mention the apparent impossibility of easily checking your past comments, or those of others. I miss many of the folks that often participated by reading and voting. Maybe Unherd will miss us when we’re gone…

William Cameron
William Cameron
1 year ago

“Hate Crime ” is bad law . There are existing laws where abuse of freedom of speech can be prosecuted. Being logged as a “hate ” criminal-without any independent court assessment- is a recipe for injustice.
And I am sure the Police find this as unpleasant and unnecessary as the majority of us do.

Last edited 1 year ago by William Cameron
Dan Martin
Dan Martin
1 year ago

We Texans supposedly have our problems but I can’t imagine a member of the local constabulary coming to my door with an arrest warrant over a comment I have made on social media.

ds1112226
ds1112226
1 year ago

Here is the anti-dote from Orwell’s Newspeak Dictionary: (1) Scot Squad – Police apologizes – YouTube

Kendell Wilson
Kendell Wilson
1 year ago

I should defintly not find this as amusing as I do. but, at some point…

I’d say that maybe it helps I’m in the US, but while this seems uniquely British to me, the sentiment certainly is not.