Artillery Row

The police should stop wasting time on tweets

How have we reached the point where expressing your opinion can consign you to a Kafkaesque nightmare?

It all began with one innocuous tweet.

A young and upcoming Conservative councillor in Northamptonshire, concerned about sexually explicit LGBTQI+ Pride events attended by children, dared to express the Christian belief that “Pride is Sin” on Twitter. 

The tweet led to arrests, interrogations, media censorship and even threats from the police to storm a planning committee meeting. 

You could not make it up. It would be laughable if it were not so serious, because behind the story is a deeply chilling picture of the local political landscape and a window into the  state of free speech and Christian freedoms in the UK. It lays bare the level and manner of censure that is to come. 

Within days of the tweet, Councillor King Lawal was suspended by those who should have supported him most and an investigation that would last six months was launched by Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ). 

For expressing his beliefs, King was forced out of six organisations in three days. This included him being forced to step down from his own business following murky and illegal threats from authorities that multi-million pound contracts would be pulled if he failed to comply. 

King was told he was no longer welcome at a local school where he was a governor, and he was even banned from holding consultations with the public at the local library. 

Rather than give in, with the support of the Christian Legal Centre, King chose to stand, speak, and fight back. 

His story broke in the media and his friend and fellow Conservative councillor in Northamptonshire, Anthony Stevens, tweeted his support for King to his 76 followers.  

For daring to support King Lawal publicly, Anthony now also became a marked man. 

Anthony had been democratically elected to become a councillor in Wellingborough in 2020 and he was elected as vice-chairman on the planning committee. 

Following Anthony declaring public support for King, the Chairman of the planning committee, Jonathan Ekins, out of the blue, received a call from a police officer.

The officer did not give her name, but said that Councillor Stevens was going to be arrested for a “serious offence”. She impressed upon Councillor Ekins that Anthony was “not fit” to be a councillor and should be “removed” from public office. 

Councillor Ekins said categorically that no one could be removed from legally and democratically elected office.  

He was given no further information about the “offence” and was told to keep quiet about it. 

Days later, without warning, the police arrived unannounced at Anthony’s home and arrested him for a “hate crime” in front of his wife and children. 

At Kettering police station, officers presented him with the tweets he had sent out in support of King Lawal and asked why he supported him. 

Anthony, who is not a Christian, said that because he is a “free speech absolutist” he believes in the right of everyone to express their beliefs without fear. He said it didn’t matter whether he agreed with King’s beliefs about “Pride” or not.  

To fuel and justify the arrest under section 19 of the Public Order Act 1986, officers then dug up a handful of tweets involving the freedom to criticise Islam to allege that Anthony was a “racist”.

The police also let slip that it was a local Labour councillor and activist that had reported him to the police. 

Held for six hours in a cell, his phone was seized and he was bailed. No further information other than these tweets has ever been presented to justify the arrest. 

Rather than give in to the intimidation, Anthony, supported by the Christian Legal Centre, also chose to stand, speak and fight for justice. 

Anthony dared to tell the media what had happened to him and was lined up to speak on GB News’ Free Speech Nation.

But then a hand delivered letter was dropped through his letter box. Astonishingly, it was from the police warning him not to speak to the media about his case. The same message was sent to other media outlets who had covered the story. Caving into the pressure and the doubt created, all media outlets pulled the interview. 

Anthony’s lawyers accused the police of “an outright attempt to intimidate our client and media organisations and to stifle legitimate criticism of the police. Such behaviour is wholly unacceptable for a police officer in a free country.”

Following all these events, Anthony, unbowed, continued to attend planning committee meetings as part of his democratically elected role. 

The same Labour councillor that had reported him to the police was on the planning committee and complained to the police that Anthony was breaching his bail conditions.  

The Chairman, Councillor Ekins, received another call from the same police officer. 

In further astonishing evidence that has now been submitted as part of an official Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) complaint, Councillor Ekins said: 

DC Thompson then continued to say that Anthony Stevens would not be allowed to attend another planning meeting. If Tony Aslam (the Labour councillor) was present and if the police became aware that was going to happen, they intended to turn up at the meeting and arrest Anthony on the spot. 

My response was, rightly, to remind DC Thompson that she would be welcome to try but that, as Chair of the committee, I have the right to forbid entry to any persons in the meeting room and to instruct the Security officials to remove the police for public disruption of a democratically constituted meeting.

Nonetheless, Anthony’s bail conditions were extended, and he could no longer attend the meetings. He accused the police of “interfering with the democratic process of Wellingborough Town Council and the administration of my duties as an elected representative in particular.”

Months later, the Crown Prosecution Service and Northamptonshire police, without apology or explanation, quietly dropped the case against Anthony. 

CCHQ also concluded their investigation against King Lawal without taking any action and he was reinstated as a councillor. 

During Councillor King Lawal’s reinstatement, Labour councillors wearing rainbow sashes stood up for a “silent protest” as King began to make a statement. Another Labour councillor resigned and stormed out of a committee meeting after King was democratically elected to be its chair. 

Ms McGhee exclaimed to the BBC: “I refuse to sit on a panel chaired by a bigot.”

Supporting King and Anthony in the middle of all this, we have been astonished by what we have seen and heard. 

What does it say about the level and freedom of discourse heading into a crucial election year? What does it say about what will happen to anyone who backs openly a Christian viewpoint? 

Keir Starmer has said openly that: “It’s time for tougher hate crime laws so every LGBT+ crime is treated as an aggravated offence”.

In the cases of King Lawal and Anthony Stevens we have seen the disturbing ripple effect that such a policy has and the dangers this will have if the police are given further powers without a proper understanding of the law. We have seen a police force becoming increasingly politicised with a growing two-tiered approach. 

In the case of Anthony Stevens the police openly colluded with Labour members and weaponised “hate crime” to try and remove democratically elected councillors. They did this not because Anthony or King had committed any crime, but because they and members of the Labour party concluded that their beliefs were unacceptable and had to be eradicated. 

The police and governmental bodies acting in this way should concern us all. With our support Anthony will pursue justice to hold the police to account and we are ready to support to the hilt anyone else who falls foul of similar police conduct.  

If this is happening in Northamptonshire, then there is a good chance it is happening in other parts of the UK. And until those who care about Christian freedoms and free speech in this country are prepared to resist and stand publicly and collectively and without fear, then this is only going to escalate and King and Anthony’s stories will become another new normal. 

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