Matthew Doyle’s arrest sets a dangerous precedent

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“I cannot understand why I was detained, my flat trashed, my passport seized and two PCs, two tablets, and my phone taken. I was denied a shave, a shower, food. I was stripped of my dignity to appear in court without looking like a dishevelled hobo which I am not.”

These are the words of Matthew Doyle, arrested because of a tweet…

Last week we all witnessed the horror of two bombings in Belgian capital Brussels in which 30 were killed and over 100 were injured. Reports later began to emerge indicating that ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks. Matthew Doyle was tweeting about his experience soon afterwards in which he asked a Muslim woman in Croydon about the attacks. He tweeted “I confronted a Muslim woman yesterday in Croydon. I asked her to explain the Brussels. She replied “Nothing to do with me”. A mealy mouthed reply”. The initial online reaction was the appropriate response; people ridiculed and parodied him.

However, events took a sinister turn. Matthew was arrested on Wednesday under section 19 of the Public Order Act 1986 for “publishing or distributing written material which is threatening, abusive or insulting, likely or intended to stir up racial hatred.” and as the quote at the beginning alluded to had his private property searched rather over-zealously. On Friday, the police bowed to pressure from the Crown Prosecution Service who said the police didn’t have the legal powers to decide whether he should be charged.

Although the right thing happened in the end his arrest was wholly unjustified, heavy handed and demonstrates a chilling increase in the intrusion of State power in the regulation of our speech and opinions that everyone should be concerned about. He wasn’t stirring up racial hatred or abuse or and it is doubtful that what he did was likely to cause others to do it. The approach of the police was totally out of proportion. Not only did they arrest him, they seized his passport, entered his home and confiscated his property. All of this intrusion, all of this force and coercion over a tweet.

What is most concerning of all is the effect this has on freedom of speech and State’s ability to intrude itself upon our lives. These days so many things are labelled as ‘racist’, ‘Islamaphobic’, ‘sexist’, ‘homophobic’ in order to stop people from expressing their opinions. The hope seems to be that no one would want to be labelled as those things so by labelling people as those things people will refrain from wanting to say whatever it is they were going to say in order to avoid being ‘sanctioned.’

We’ve seen people from Germaine Greer, Maryam Nymaze and even human rights campaigners such as Peter Tatchell being ‘no-platformed’ at various universities because of their opinions, the idea of police officers stopping people from asking questions and using the powers of arrest if they don’t comply is authoritarian and on the par with something one would expect to hear from Saudi Arabia.

Sadly, I suspect many people will agree with his arrest. I spoke to someone I used to go to university with and she said he should be arrested (I wonder if she thinks the string of Islamist hate preachers who have preached ‘hate’ should be arrested too?).  Other people may not agree with the arrest but simply just don’t care enough. They should because it could happen to them. Perhaps only then will they care when they are being carted off in a police car, their house searched and their property seized will they realise that no one is immune from such political correctness, such ‘police activism’, such assaults on their liberties.

For those of us who love liberty, specifically freedom of speech, we know that every restriction on our right to say what we want, every new law, every new regulation is one more restriction of our freedom.

It’s quite interesting actually because we’re told so much by the politicians and the media and the defence and intelligence services that ISIS and various other terrorist groups want to destroy our freedoms and way of life. Situations like this indicate that many members of our society are actually doing a good job of it themselves.


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The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty