Is Free Speech Thew in England? Manchester Jailed For Tee-Shirt With Anti-Police Writings

On Sunday, I ran a column in the Washington Post detailing how free speech is dying in the West. That column featured cases from England prominently as have many stories on this blog. Now we have yet another free speech case to add to our collection from our cousins across the pond. Barry Thew, 39, was arrested after he wore a handmade tee shirt with offensive anti-police words. He was given four months for his exercise of what should be protected free speech.

PCs Nicola Hughes, 23, and Fiona Bone, 32, were killed on duty in a gun and grenade attack during a routine call.

Barry Thew, 39, of Radcliffe, Manchester, was sentenced in violation of section 4a public order charge – displaying writing or other visible representation with intention of causing harassment, alarm or distress. He further admitted to violating a suspended sentence imposed for a previous offence of cannabis production. The arrest came after he wore the tee-shirt hours after two officers were killed. The shirt said on its front: “One Less PiG Perfect Justice.” On the back: “KiLL A COP 4 HA, haaa?”

It is without question a disgusting and disturbing message. However, such grotesque views should be condemned by other citizens through the exercise of free speech. Yet, the police found that the expression of his views constitutes a crime because as Inspector Bryn Williams explained “officers on the ground were just learning of and trying to come to terms with the devastating news that two colleagues had been murdered, Thew thought nothing of going out in public with a T-shirt daubed with appalling handwritten comments on.” That does not sound like a threat but an offensive for police. He further added that most of the public were showing tremendous support for them, but not Thew.

Judge Peter Lakin also did not describe any real threat but rather anger at the content of Thew’s message: “This, on any view, is a shocking case. Your response to the shocking events was to parade around in a T-shirt in the centre of Radcliffe which had on it the most disgusting of slogans. In my judgment, it is utterly depressing that you felt able to stoop so low as to behave in that way. Your mindless behaviour has added to the pain of everyone touched by the deaths of these young officers. You have shown no remorse.” So “mindless” speech that causes “pain” for the public is a crime? This is precisely what the column on Sunday addressed: the trend toward defining permissive free speech by the reaction of third parties as opposed to the right of the speaker to free expression. Here the crime is saying or displaying anything viewed as an intentional effort to cause “harassment, alarm or distress.” Many slogans and campaigns are designed to cause distress and alarm with regard to some social or political matter.

Despite many similarities and close affinity with our English cousins, free speech remains a significant conflict between our two systems. The erosion of free speech in England is alarming and undermines one of the world’s great legal systems. The country has come a long way (in the wrong direction) from the principles of the Sunday soapbox speakers in Hyde Park, London.

Notably, Thew is bitter because of the death of his son three years ago and repeated stop-and-search incidents. That is no excuse for wearing such a vile tee-shirt but he clearly should have the right to do so despite the sadness of many over the deaths of the officers.

Source: Guardian

36 thoughts on “Is Free Speech Thew in England? Manchester Jailed For Tee-Shirt With Anti-Police Writings”

  1. I agree with you. Free speech, there is no such thing anymore.
    Why is it that the ordinary person can be JAILED for displaying their opinion. It has got to the point that CONTROL needs to be kept at all cost, including JAILING CITIZENS.
    I have read may stories from America of its citizens (who the police really work for) being arrested on false charges, having their animals shot, being assaulted by police in their own home, because of MISTAKES. Its easy to site on the fence and say, i dont agree so, he shouldnt have the right to think it or display it, but that is how they gain control. They pick out someone who is not popular, say look at this horrible thing, we will make laws to stop this terrible thing. The citizens rejoyce, we are protected from crazies, when actually they have just handed over their right to have an opinion in opposition to the government. Wake up people.

  2. It is very clear here that the arrest IS WARRANTED! clearly the sayings on the shirt is meant to create a climate of danger to the police. Free speech is free, but with it comes responsibility!
    The police are not all corrupt, and even so we are (in a civilized society) supposed to go to court (NOT OUTSIDE THE PROTECTIONS OF THE LAW) Jeanne M. Kincaid NH attorney) BUT WITHIN THE CONFINES OF THE LAW!
    If we do not allow the the police to carry forth their job and under the legal confines agree via law, and if we create a climate in whcih they cannot do their job, NONE OF US WILL BE FREE!

  3. ralphiesmom,

    Although the condemnation is laudable, it should be noted that the resolution is non-binding. Should the CA House erred and voted such a thing into law? It simply would not pass scrutiny when challenged in court and something like that – and that easy to win – would have the ACLU and others all over it. Still, it shows a remarkable lack of judgement on behalf of the CA House and a complete ignorance about freedom of speech. So for the CA House? They get a solid “Booooooo!” and the finger for a job poorly done.

  4. Re free speech in the U.S., the California House of Reps passed a resolution against speaking out about Israel on campuses.

    “The Associated Press reported on Wednesday that “Most of the incidents of anti-Semitism the resolution cited are related to the Israel-Palestine debate. … The resolution characterizes the student campaign to pressure the University of California system to divest from Israel as anti-Semitic, and applauds university leaders’ refusal to consider it,” AP added.

  5. But the constitutional guarantees of free speech do permit the State (at least the State of New York) to forbid satirical “confessions” that are not “clear” enough, or not “funny” enough, or which are sent when there is no “expectation” of satire. In fact, such “confessions” are not considered “speech” at all; they are considered a deceitfully fraudulent “scheme to promote an unpopular viewpoint.” See, again, the case documentation at:

  6. Frankly,

    You can’t call for the destruction of the country through violence and I’ll apply the same standard to every human in it.

    Actually, according to the Supreme Court, you can.

    “The Court ruled that ‘except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action’ — meaning conduct such as standing outside someone’s house with an angry mob and urging them to burn the house down that moment — ‘the constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press do not permit a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force.'”

  7. Frankly,

    I am suggesting that we as a society cannot base reasonable restrictions of free speech upon what crazy people may or may not do. They are often irrational and unreasonable actors and what triggers them could be anything or nothing at all.

    If desensitization to violence is your concern? Film, television and video games are far more damaging in that respect than some dufus in a t-shirt, but you aren’t clamoring for their censorship as well, are you? What about Shakespeare? When he wasn’t writing comedy, he killed a lot of people. Ask yourself this question: why are most martial artists – people trained to commit violence both offensively and defensively – are generally adverse to starting violence? It’s because they understand the consequences of real violence. Consider the case where 15 year old Alyssa Bustamante brutally killed a 9 year old girl because she “wanted to know what it felt like to kill someone.” Consider the recent case of 17 year old Jake Evans who killed his mother and sister. This is what NBC News reported on him:

    “‘It just kind of happened,’ Evans told the 911 operator in an eerily calm voice. ‘I’ve been kind of, uh, planning on killing for a while now.’

    When asked if he meant the two of them or just anybody, Evans responded: ‘Pretty much anybody.’

    [. . . ]

    ‘I guess this is really selfish to say but, to me, I felt like they were just suffocating me in a way. I don’t know,’ Evans said during the 911 call.

    ‘Obviously, I am pretty, I guess, evil,’ he said.

    Evans is charged with capital murder. A judge denied him bond.

    ‘Just to let you know, I hate the feeling of killing someone, you know,’ Evans said in the 911 call. ‘I’m going to be messed up.'”

    Obviously there is something wrong with this boy. I’d hazard to say that censoring a t-shirt (or a movie or a tv show or a game) would have deterred him from his violence.

    Educating him might have though.

    Even then, that would not have been a guarantee of prevention. Crazy people are crazy, Frankly. We can’t model our social norms on what they may or may not do unless we want a draconian result. Freedoms comes with a price.

  8. I would certainly agree that equally alarming restrictions are increasingly imposed on speech in the United States. What we have in this country is a distinction, frequently drawn by self-anointed “digital humanists,” between a flaccid, limp, polite type of speech called “debating,” and forms of expression that are judged to be inadmissible because they are “confusing,” or “misleading,” or “annoying,” or “malicious.”

    Thus, in New York, it is now a crime to provoke an intellectual controversy by sending out the following “gmail confession”:

    “Apparently, someone is intent on exposing a failing of mine that dates back almost fifteen years ago. It is true that I should have cited Dr. Golb’s articles when using his arguments, and it is true that I misrepresented his ideas. But this is simply the politics of Dead Sea Scrolls studies. If I had given credit to this man I would have been banned from conferences around the world.”

    This sort of crudely satirical online expressive conduct is treated not as speech, but as an “act” of “identity theft,” “criminal impersonation,” “forgery,” and “harassment,” on the grounds that the author “annoys” the victim of the satire, “promotes an unpopular theory,” and deceitfully obtains the “benefit” of some undefined “gain or advantage.”

    That is the law in the cultural capital of the United States, despite the eloquent pronouncements we hear about free expression from the Department of State, various academics, and political representatives around the country.

    For documentation of the New York “criminal satire” case, see:

    P.s. the Yes Men call the sort of speech criminalized in New York “identity correction.” Their view, however, is clearly not accepted by the American legal authorities, at least when the subjects of the “correction” are influential members of the academic community.

  9. “Roger Lambert – and those approaches are not really “free” in the end. Not truly free, anyway.”

    Speech in the U.S. is not “really free” either, though, is it? Unlike Britain, for example, try showing full frontal nudity of TV in prime time and see how far your “truly free” rights extend. Try making a truly free political statement to a cop about ‘pigs’ or about Osama bin laden to a luggage inspector. See if you have any real free speech rights as a student, or as a minor. See of you have truly free speech as an employee of the government. Try using keywords like “bomb” “obama” and “sniper” in an e-mail and see if you don’t get a visit from the FBI.

    This idea that we have free speech in the U.S. is laughable – especially considering the fact that we have very very little in the way of an uncensored press here compared to many areas of the world.

    An against this backdrop, people want to criticize, say, Germany for not allowing speeches promoting Naziism, or Britain not allowing speech considered harassing.

    Do you really think political free speech is actually in jeopardy in Europe? They have, you know, been having certain restrictions on certain types of political messages for up to thirty years now – I don’t see all the territory west of Moscow sliding down a slippery slope to the sea – do you?

    Seriously, this parochialism of Americans self-righteously condemning European nations for having a slightly different approach to political speech is pretty darned amusing.

  10. I am disappointed in the members of this group, including Professor Turley, who want to defend a direct statement which incites others to commit a felony to be protected by free speech. This is not the case where someone heard him say, “if I see him again I will kill him.” He is parading a challenge and an invitation to commit murder.

    I do see imminent danger. There are more chances for someone to be killed in this scenario, than in the rushed exit of a large group of people from a crowded fire house.

    The free speech we want to protect should be broad as this group regularly defends. But to indicate that anything should be allowed in any circumstance, which to me is the case here for those that defend this shirt, is a license unintended by the Framers and certainly not reflective of the reasons we chose to live as a republic rather than as isolated cave dwellers.

    Let’s maintain our credibility on this issue by being insightful about our analysis and conclusions.

  11. Gene – your kidding, right? You certainly can’t seriously suggest that saying “I like turnips” will lead to cop killings. As for a steady stream of “lets kill ‘X'” leading to violence there are historical precedents that are easily found.

  12. Sadly, I believe a signficiant number of Americans would want someone who wore such a t-shirt, imprisoned. Maybe even a t-shirt that condemned the police in harshly, but nowhere near this t-shirt. There are cops who would be fine with putting people in prison for this kind of t-shirts. Free speech in America is much stronger than the U.K., but the police state in our nation always beckons. There are always police apologists who will excuse the worst cases of police abuse.

  13. Jill Stein, Cheri Honkala arrested, call tonight’s debate a “mockumentary”
    Posted by Jill Stein for President 1870.80pc on October 16, 2012 · Flag

    Jill-Stein-Cheri-Honkala-CPD-Debate-arrest.png(HEMPSTEAD, NY) – Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala, the Green presidential and vice-presidential nominees, were just now forcibly prevented from entering the grounds of tonight’s presidential debate organized by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD). See a video here.

    Dr. Stein and Ms. Honkala will appear on 85% of ballots on Election Day, and recently polled 2-3% in four consecutive national polls. The Federal government recognizes Jill Stein as a qualified presidential candidate, having approved her campaign for federal matching funds. Yet the two women were arrested by local police when they tried to enter the grounds of Hofstra University, in Hempstead, New York, where the debate is scheduled to take place. They are currently still in police custody.

    Nader was prevented from entering the debate hall even though he had a ticket. Clearly the Green Party is a serious threat.

Comments are closed.