Picture credit: BrianAJackson/Getty
Artillery Row

The letters of the law

When did we delude ourselves that offence should be a crime?

Hampshire Constabulary have sent two letters. The first was an acknowledgement that the arrests last year of a former Royal Green Jacket and myself may not have been entirely lawful, and that the police will accept claims for compensation. The second letter was not quite so welcome.

The veteran’s crime, as you may recall, was to have posted on social media the image of a swastika tarted up in the glad rags of the Pride movement, thereby implying an ideological similarity between the identity politics of the Nazis and current crop of militant trans rights activists, whose enthusiasm for for chopping lumps off young people is matched only by Monty Don’s lust for pruning trees.

Hampshire Police, which has its own Mermaid’s approved police car, took the comparison badly. In fact, so offended were they by the suggestion that there were fascists disguised as humanitarians within the county that they sent seven uniformed officers, a riot van, and its crack LGBT Link Unit to bring the former soldier to justice. The veteran was barbecuing sausages when the first of the cops arrived. I was arrested for obstruction. 

For reasons unique to its history, the display of Nazi symbolism in German is a criminal offence. But Basingstoke is not Berlin, and posting images of the swastika is not a crime in Britain. It wasn’t a crime in the seventies when Siouxsie Sioux wore a Nazi armband whilst crucifying a punk version of The Lords Prayer, and it is not a crime now.

The argument relied upon by the Chief Constable for police intervention is set out in his Second Letter, in which he states that the swastika is so uniquely abhorrent to the Jewish community that its frivolous use constitutes a hate crime, contrary to S127 of The Communications Act 2003.

This is bad news for devotees of the sitcom, Dad’s Army, where every episode begins with animated swastikas sweeping across Europe. The spectacle of Corporal Pike defending the seaside town of Wilmington on Sea, dressed in the cuttings from a forsythia bush, rarely prompts the lighting of a memorial candle.  Despite the swastika’s association with genocide, the homespun whimsy has more in keeping with The Last of The Summer Wine than Schindler’s List. 

Modern broadcasters should be mindful of the unsettling similarities between the racial supremacy of Adolf Hitler,  and the xenophobia of Captain Mainwaring, who dismissed the  French because they are too emotional and smell of garlic.  Repeats of Dad’s Army perhaps should come with a trigger warning. 

The former Royal Green Jacket adopted the trigger warning approach, adding one to the  Facebook feed containing the swastika. In a sane world, this cautionary approach would be regarded as admirable, exemplary even. Not so in Hampshire, where The Chief Constable seizes upon it like a smoking gun:

“By using the words ‘trigger warning’” he writes in his second letter, “it is my view that you were very aware that that your social media post could have caused distress to people. Police attendance therefore does not amount to harassment.”

every damned thing now comes with a trigger warning

If the Chief Constable spent less time planning raids on private barbecues, and more time channel hopping from the safety of a sofa with a tub or two of Pringles, he would quickly  discover the uncomfortable truth that every damned thing now comes with a trigger warning. From The Dambusters, with its unfortunately named labrador, to Lassie Come Home, with collie dogs falling down mineshafts, to the entire back catalogue of Netflix, where there are triggers and sub-triggers for Violence, Moderate Violence, Bad Language, Nudity, Self Harm, Suicide and Scenes That Contain Smoking. 

The Chief Constable should also familiarise himself with the latest iteration of the Hate Crime Guidance, published this week as a result of Fair Cop legal action, in which the police are reminded that being offensive is not an offence. This applies in Hampshire, even when there is a trigger warning and a swastika.

Truly, this is a Tale of Two Letters. One, an invitation to claim for damages for police assault and  incompetence, the other, a lengthy essay detailing how the arrests would have been lawful but for the trifling fact that an LGBT specialist, an officer wearing a rainbow badge, and all five additional officers buckled under the pressure of scrutiny from a minor celebrity who once played a detective on TV.  

It gets worse. Last week, Fair Cop received a third letter, in which the Chief Constable urged us to seek legal counsel before reposting the offending meme. Our economical response contained two words and an emoji. Freedom of expression that requires sign off by a solicitor is not a freedom worth having. For this reason, we will continue to post the swastika, regaled in the sparkly swank of Drag Queen Story Time, throughout the month of June. We invite the Chief Constable to chance his hand, nail his courage to the sticking place, and prosecute. 

In the meantime, we would ask the public not to whistle “Who Do You Think You Are Kidding Mister Hitler?”within earshot of an Aldershot copper.  

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover