Sending a mean tweet about Captain Tom shouldn’t be a crime

Captain Tom Moore has captured the hearts of the nation during the pandemic. The WWII officer completed 100 lengths of his garden aged 99 to raise money for NHS-linked charities, attracting over £30million in donations and being knighted by the Queen. When he died last February at the age of 100, the loving tributes and outpouring of sadness were universal. Well, almost.

Glasgow native Joseph Kelly marked Captain Tom’s passing by tweeting a photo of the veteran and the words:

“The only good British soldier is an act, burn an old guy, buuuuurn”.

Without a doubt, these words were offensive: to the British soldiers, the memory of Captain Tom and the English language. Kelly, who tweeted as ‘Saor Alba’ (Gaelic for ‘Free Scotland’), was an idiot and deserved to be told. That should have been the end of the matter. If only.

Kelly, 36, was found guilty of sending a “grossly offensive” tweet. He will be sentenced next month. Did those who reported Kelly’s tweet to the police do so because they failed to reach her mother and asked her to teach her a lesson? Kelly was prosecuted under Section 127 of the Communications Act (2003), which states that a person breaks the law if he “sends by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other message grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or threatening character”. personage’.

Among those convicted under Section 127 are Kate Scottow, a feminist prosecuted for “misinterpreting” a trans woman; Jordan Barrack, a 20-year-old fined for drawing penises in a photograph of a police officer; and Paul Chambers, who ended up joking on Twitter about an airport explosion after his flight was canceled. It’s also the provision under which Mark Meechan, known as Count Dankula, was convicted over a YouTube video in which he ‘trained’ his girlfriend’s pug to give a Nazi salute. Scottow’s and Chambers’ convictions were eventually overturned.

Whatever you think of what Joseph Kelly said, it’s still important to stand up for your free speech rights. The criminal pattern shouldn’t earn you a criminal record. Before anyone suggests that Kelly’s freedom of speech was not infringed, let me quote Adrian Cottam, the sheriff who convicted him:

“The prosecution interferes with freedom of expression, but it is a necessary interference.”

Freedom of expression is not unlimited. The tax deputy, prosecuting, argued that if Kelly had shouted his words in public, he likely would have been arrested for breach of the peace. He probably would have. But Kelly didn’t shout anything in public. He posted a nasty comment on social media, where users weren’t worried about the impending ‘breakdown of social peace’, but instead were offended and turned to criminal law to punish a viewpoint. which they disapproved. The criminal law is only too happy to oblige.

When it comes to speech and expression, the state should limit its involvement to cases where harm is done, threatened or instigated. It shouldn’t be about dragging people to court because they’re offensive, a term whose public meaning is vastly expanding day by day. Section 127 should, at the very least, be amended to remove the reference to offensiveness, but there is no prospect of that happening anytime soon. Parliament is dominated by two parties equally determined to narrow the scope of freedom of expression, whether in the service of “online safety” or the fight against “hate”. Freedom of expression is not a priority, it only limits it.

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