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 Fun.co.uk 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. Frankly,

    Your comment hinges upon the word “deranged”.

    Someone who is crazy doesn’t operated by the same mental rules of provocation as a normal person. “Kill the pigs!” may encite them to do yoga, but “I love tuplips.” may send them on a killing spree. We cannot adjust the parameters of acceptable speech based on what crazy people may or may not do. What about Muslim extremists (who, like all extremists are a form of one crazy or another) demands for blasphemy laws protecting Islam from criticism? Is that acceptable too? Because under your crazy person rationale, it would be.

  2. I’m sorry but I’ll draw a line at calling for the killing of anyone. I have no problem if you want to use the word “pig”, I have no problem with disparaging cops, or any other form of employment. But I will draw a line at calling for murder. Its oh so cute, its oh so funny, its oh so daring right up to the point where some deranged dipstick decides that it makes sense to actually kill a few.

    You can’t call for the destruction of the country through violence and I’ll apply the same standard to every human in it. There are many I wish would die, many we would be better off if they did die but it is way past abuse of free speech to actively call for someone to kill them.

  3. Fairly, Way to go. You ,managed to get Voltaire and Shirley Ellis in the same thread.

  4. I guess we can call the cops pigs on this blog but do so under a pseudnym or pseudafed so that if we go to England they wont bust us. Pig Pig bo big, banna nana fo fig, PIIIIGGG!

  5. mespo,

    Sorry, I left out “Monsieur l’abbé, I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.” which is indeed, Voltaire.

    I just like to give Ms. Hall the credit she seldom gets.

  6. mespo,

    Not Voltaire but Evelyn Beatrice Hall under her pseudonym, S.G. Tallentyre, in her book about Voltaire entitled The Friends of Voltaire.

    She was describing Voltaire’s beliefs with her words, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

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

  8. AY:

    Sorry for the oblique reference. I was alluding to Voltaire’s quote:

    “Monsieur l’abbé, I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.” It’s sometimes stated as “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

  9. I also have to wonder how much of the punishment was parole violation. This guy should come to the US and join the Westboro Baptist Church if he craves similar public admiration.

    Looking on Westboro’s page, there was a counter at the left which read “People whom God has cast into hell since you loaded this page” with a counter.

    I viewed the source of their Hell Counter and found the formula. it is seconds*106.0/60.0 . Folks, this is a scientific achievment. Interestingly, despite the growing world population, the rate of damnation is a constant. That would imply more people are saved by God as a percentage of the damned as the population rises. I wonder how this affects the Rapture.

  10. What a crazy world. Men have died defending our freedom of speech and the first disagreeable speech that comes along; through him in jail!!

  11. “He was given four months for his exercise of what should be protected free speech…If England decided that they should conform their free speech laws on the United States model instead of the multitude of advanced first-world countries which take a different approach”

    There – fixed that for you.

  12. What the Prof and mespo said. You may not like it, but the statements on the shirt are protected free speech. There is no incitement in the language. England. You guys just keep adding reasons to the list of why I shouldn’t visit.

  13. AY, I believe the point Mespo was making was he wouldn’t want to have to storm the beaches of Normandy to protect this free speech.

  14. Mespo,

    I too fail to see the imminent danger posed….. I think the essence of the dissatisfaction came from the previous conviction of cannabis….. I wonder if this caused him extra time…. If so, this is kinda up in smoke……

  15. Not so sure I’d “fight to the death” the right to publish this nonsense but it is protected (and hold your nose) free speech nonetheless.

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