United Kingdom

Police record 120,000 cases of 'non-crime' hate incidents

Police have recorded almost 120,000 'non-crime hate incidents', an investigation revealed today - as a judge slammed 'Gestapo' police for quizzing a businessman at work over his 'transphobic tweets'. 

Despite police accepting that the incidents are not crimes, they have still been logged on a system and can show up in criminal records checks - preventing the accused from getting jobs.  

The figures emerged as Harry Miller, a former police officer, won a court victory against Humberside Police after the force investigated him over 'transphobic tweets'. 

Under the Hate Crime Operational Guidelines,  adopted in 2014, forces must record any actions deemed to be motivated by an element of hate, such as racism or transgender-phobic comments, even if there is no evidence to prove them.

The police was criticised by High Court judge Julian Knowles, who said Mr Miller's tweets should not have been categorised as a 'hate incident' and said officers had acted like the 'Gestapo or Stasi' by turning up at his work to quiz him about them.  

Former police officer Harry Miller outside the High Court today prior to the ruling by Justice Julian Knowles

Former police officer Harry Miller with Father Ted writer Graham Linehan (third right) and supporters outside the High Court, London

One of the messages which Mr Miller was known to have retweeted was a poem which included the line: 'Your vagina goes nowhere'

In figures obtained by the Telegraph, South Wales police were found to have logged the highest number of 'hate incidents' with 13,856 cases since 2014. 

The Metropolitan Police logged over 9,000 in the same time period. 

Mr Miller's experience has been the most high-profile case of citizens being investigated by  police even when they have not committed a crime.  

The 54-year-old was told that 30 messages he had tweeted or retweeted over the past year were being recorded as a 'hate incident'. 

A judge today described the police's actions had a 'substantial chilling effect' on Mr Miller's right to free speech.

Announcing the court's decision, Mr Justice Knowles said Mr Miller's tweets were 'lawful' and that the effect of the police turning up at Mr Miller's place of work 'because of his political opinions must not be underestimated'.

Mr Miller is the founder of campaign group Fair Cop, which challenges police interference in speech. The 54-year-old picture in the middle today holding a 'We love free speech' banner, with Father Ted writer Graham Linehan on his right

He added: 'To do so would be to undervalue a cardinal democratic freedom. In this country we have never had a Cheka, a Gestapo or a Stasi. We have never lived in an Orwellian society.' 

He also said: 'The claimant's tweets were lawful and that there was not the slightest risk that he would commit a criminal offence by continuing to tweet.

How police guidelines on 'hate incidents' are lawful, but officers over-stepped the mark 

In today's judgment, Mr Justice Julian Knowles ruled that Humberside Police would have acted lawfully if it had 'merely recorded' the tweets as a hate incident.

However he said police had overstepped the line by visiting Mr Miller at his place of work and then with subsequent statements in relation to the possibility of a prosecution against him.

He referred to it as a 'disproportionate interference' with Mr Miller's right to freedom of expression.

However Judge Knowles rejected a wider challenge to the lawfulness of the 'hate incident' guidance, ruling that it 'serves legitimate purposes and is not disproportionate'.

Rules surrounding 'hate incidents' are set out by in guidance written up by the College of Policing.

It defines a hate incident as 'any non-crime incident which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice against a person who is transgender or perceived to be transgender'.

This differs from a hate crime, which is a criminal offence.

The definition of a hate crime, according to the guidance is: 'Any criminal offence which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice against a person who is transgender or perceived to be transgender.'

'I find the combination of the police visiting the claimant's place of work, and their subsequent statements in relation to the possibility of prosecution, were a disproportionate interference with the claimant's right to freedom of expression because of their potential chilling effect.' 

Mr Miller was joined at the High Court today by a group of supporters, including members of his organisation Fair Cop.

The organisation formed in May 2019 from concerns about police attempts to criminalise people for opinions that are not against the law. 

Other supporters outside court today included Father Ted creator and comedy writer Graham Linehan, who said he has also had the police phoning him because of his opinions on transgender issues.

The College of Policing's guidance defines a hate incident as 'any non-crime incident which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice against a person who is transgender or perceived to be transgender'.

In a ruling on Friday, the High Court in London found Humberside Police's actions were a 'disproportionate interference' with Mr Miller's right to freedom of expression.

But Mr Justice Julian Knowles rejected a wider challenge to the lawfulness of the College of Police guidance, ruling that it 'serves legitimate purposes and is not disproportionate'.

The judge said: 'The claimants' tweets were lawful and there was not the slightest risk that he would commit a criminal offence by continuing to tweet.

'I find the combination of the police visiting the claimant's place of work, and their subsequent statements in relation to the possibility of prosecution, were a disproportionate interference with the claimant's right to freedom of expression because of their potential chilling effect.'

At a hearing in November, Mr Miller's barrister Ian Wise QC said his client was 'deeply concerned' about proposed reforms to the law on gender recognition and had used Twitter to 'engage in debate about transgender issues'. 

Maya Forstater (pictured), a 45-year-old tax expert, lost her job at a London think-tank last year after tweeting that transgender women cannot change their biological sex

He added: 'It's really, really hard to get the message out ... we are not transphobic, we just think that there are some issues that really need to be discussed.'

Mr Linehan - who said he has 'had police come to my house, phone me up' because of his public opinions on transgender issues - said the ruling was 'just chipping away at the corner of the problems, but is significant'.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Knowles emphasised: 'I am not concerned with the merits of the transgender debate. The issues are obviously complex.

Hate incident investigations are diverting officers from the priority of tackling violent crime, according to Cressida Dick (pictured)

'As I observed during the hearing, the legal status and rights of transgender people are a matter for Parliament and not the courts.'

Holding a copy of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, he added: 'I'm going to continue tweeting, I'm going to continue campaigning and I'm going to continue standing with women in order to secure their sex-based rights. 

'This judgment today has told us that we can do that and, if the police come knocking, say: 'Miller v Humberside Police, b****r off!''

Deputy Chief Constable Bernie O'Reilly, executive director at the College of Policing, said: 'It is pleasing that today's judgment found that the College of Policing's guidance on the recording of non-crime hate incidents is both lawful and extremely important in protecting people.

'Policing's position is clear - we want everyone to feel able to express opinions as passionately as they wish without breaking the law.'

He added: 'Our guidance is about protecting people because of who they are and we know this is an area where people may be reluctant to report things to us because of the very personal nature of what they experience or perceive.

'In policing we don't always get things right and there will of course be some learning following today's judgment.'

The interview between Mr Miller and the officer took place at 3pm on January 23 last year. 

The PC said he had received a complaint about Harry's tweets from a 'victim' — an unnamed member of the public 'down south' — who had alerted the hate crime unit of Britain's biggest police force, London's Scotland Yard.

Officers at the Yard, in turn, asked Humberside police to interview Harry after tracing him to his plant and machinery business in the force's area.

Mother-of-two who called a transgender woman a 'pig in a wig' is convicted of sending offensive tweets as free speech campaigners protest outside court

A mother who called a transgender woman a 'pig in a wig' during a twitter row was today given a conditional discharge after a judge convicted her of causing anxiety.

Three police officers arrived at Kate Scottow's home in Pirton, near Hitchin, Herts to arrest her in front of her 10-year-old daughter and 20-month-old son after complaints were received from Stephanie Hayden.

District Judge Margaret Dodd found the 39-year-old guilty of persistently making use of a public communications network to cause annoyance, inconvenience and anxiety to Ms Hayden between September 2018 and May of 2019.

Scottow was convicted of a criminal offence, unlike Mr Miller, who tweets were recorded by police as simply a 'hate incident'. 

Kate Scottow (pictured on February 7) was today found guilty of persistently making use of a public communications network to cause annoyance, inconvenience, and anxiety to transgender woman Stephanie Hayden between September 2018 and last May

Scottow was accused of deliberately 'misgendering' Ms Hayden by referring to her as 'he' or 'him' during a period of 'significant online abuse'.

Scottow had been arrested by police officers last year at her home in Pirton near Hitchin, Hertfordshire, in front of her daughter 10, and son, 20 months.

District Judge Margaret Dodd told Scottow that she made deliberate and persistent use of male pronouns, and had caused Ms Hayden 'needless anxiety'.

The policeman told Harry that he was in trouble for retweeting a 'transphobic' limerick.

He was told that he was also being investigated for tweeting support for BBC Woman's Hour presenter Jenni Murray, who had been criticised by Oxford students after writing a newspaper article questioning whether transgender women are 'real women'.

Harry was told in the conversation at Tesco that he had not broken the law but was guilty of a 'non-crime' hate incident. 

According to court papers, the constable explained to him: 'Sometimes, a woman's brain grows a man's body in the womb and that is what transgender is.' 

When Harry asked why the officer kept calling the person who had made the complaint a 'victim', when no crime had been established, he was told 'that's just how it works'.