Leading article: Liberty in rude health

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A MAN walking a street in east London was told by a police officer to take his hands out his pockets and refused to do so. The police officer asked where he was going, and received the reply: "This is a free country and I can walk where I like."

Since it is no part of the police's duty to enforce a code of deportment that would catch out Tony Blair, Prince Charles and the whole of Eton College, Conrad Samuels was justified in asserting his rights a little bluntly. The police had no grounds for "reasonable suspicion" that Mr Samuels, who is black, was carrying a weapon or tools with intent to burgle, and should not have wrestled him to the ground, arrested him and locked him up.

"It is unfortunate that the plaintiff gave the police officer unhelpful answers," as Lord Bingham, the Lord Chief Justice, declared. But in ruling that there is no condition of politeness attached to freedom, Lord Bingham has struck an important blow for liberty.