Labour Repression Of Political Opponents?
In the middle of December last year [n.b -- 2004], five police officers turned up at the Welsh home of Nick Griffin, leader of the British National party, and arrested him on suspicion of inciting racial hatred.
Griffin was driven to Halifax police station and forced to watch three hours’ worth of his own speeches, which the police had surreptitiously recorded. He was then released without charge, bailed and told to reappear on 2 March this year [n.b. -- 2005] precisely at the time campaigning is expected to begin for the next general election. Mr Griffin is standing against David Blunkett, in Sheffield Brightside.
Interestingly enough, though, the police were unable to point to a single statemnt that, by itself consitituted an offense -- they instead stated that it was the "totality" of the speeches that constituted hate speech. A police team had spent "five days a week, ten hours per day" investigating this offense that consisted of speech only, to the exclusion of investigation of actual crimes like robbery or assaults.
Spectator reporter Rod Liddle got interested in the case because he had been looking into new laws proposed to prohibit "incitement of religious hatred," a crime that was apparantly intended to protect Muslims from being made uncomfortable by criticism of Islam. He asked the British Home Office for clarification on what sort of speech would be offended.
I tried to find out from the Home Office what would constitute an offence under the new Act and nobody could tell me: they haven’t got a clue. I asked loads of times. And then, on 8 December, a Home Office press officer said to me the following:
‘It’s all about context. If you wrote something in your column about Islam, the Crown Prosecution Service might not be interested, but if the same thing was said by Nick Griffin in a pub in Bradford, they might well be.’
Four days latter, Griffin was arrested -- for speeches in pubs criticizing Islam. A coincidence? Yes, according to Home Office spokespeople. But not according to West Yorkshire police.
That’s not quite what West Yorkshire police say officially, however. In a written statement to me (their press officers are incapable of speech, I think) they said the following: ‘West Yorkshire police has worked closely with the Crown Prosecution Service throughout this inquiry. The Home Office has had no part in the direction and control of this inquiry, which is the responsibility of the chief constable. However, both Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabularies and Home Office officials have been kept apprised of the progress of the inquiry.’
This is, to my mind, a direct contradiction of what the Home Office told me. What do you think?
Now nobody wants to comment publicly on this investigation. Official police sources are silent. The magistrate who signed the warrant, Valerie Parnham, won't speak at all.
Then a timorous Mrs Parnham came on the telephone. ‘I can’t say anything about this. I could get into trouble.’
Well, I just wanted to know if you were happy to sign the arrest warrant, I said, as plaintively as possible.
‘(Long pause) I can’t say anything about this. I’m sorry.’
Why the reticence in the face of an arrest of a criminal? Or is it that everyone knows that Griffin has committed no crime, and theat this is simply a political persecution in the run-up to an election in which Blair needs to hold onto Labour's overwhelming share of the British Muslim vote?
nd there is the larger question.
And there is the broader, more general philosophical point: as an indirect result of the War on Terror, our freedom to say what we believe is being swiftly eroded. It’s not just the Muslims who want people silenced or banged up: the Sikhs have been getting in on the act too, forcing a play which was critical of their religion to close. On the day it closed the Sikhs got support from a particularly fatuous spokesman for the Archbishop of Birmingham. He said that people should be free to criticise religion if they did so ‘responsibly’. What a pompous ass. Surely it would be better if God, rather than the West Yorkshire police or the Sikhs or Muslim community leaders, decided what constituted responsible criticism — and delivered His terrible judgment in that black nanosecond after we have drawn our terminal breath. Otherwise the law courts are going to be full for a while to come.
More to the point -- is it the death of free speech in Great Britain?