'The most dangerous woman in Britain' is backing Gaunt

Sacked radio presenter finds support from human rights campaigner he loved to hate
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The Independent Online

Jon Gaunt once branded the human rights campaigner Shami Chakrabarti "the most dangerous woman in Britain" in his newspaper column. The shock jock frequently disparaged Liberty, the pressure group of which she is director, on The Jon Gaunt Show.

Yet yesterday the chief exponent of civil liberties came out as Mr Gaunt's most unlikely defender, as she wrote a letter to TalkSport, the radio station that sacked him, supporting his right to free speech.

Mr Gaunt was fired after being suspended for calling Redbridge councillor Michael Stark a "Nazi" during a heated debate on the council's proposed policy of banning smokers from fostering children. He is now pursuing legal action against the station.

In her letter Ms Chakrabarti calls his dismissal "bizarre and disproportionate" and says that Mr Gaunt has the right to freedom of expression under the Human Rights Act.

She says: "We understand that the grounds given for summary termination are Mr Gaunt's on-air references to the 'health Nazis' he felt were responsible for banning smokers from fostering children in Redbridge. This strikes us as the most bizarre and disproportionate approach to someone who was no doubt contracted to excite political debate among a whole host of listeners who might not normally engage with news and current affairs programmes.

"For present purposes, we make no comment on the substance of the childcare policy in question. However, we would remind you that any court must read Mr Gaunt's contract in the light of his right to free expression under Article 10 of the Human Rights Act. While this is far from an absolute right (particularly in the context of broadcasting), to be meaningful it must extend to contentious as well as consensual speech.

"While we appreciate that recent weeks have been a delicate time for all broadcasters, we see Mr Gaunt's case as materially different from the now notorious example of privacy intrusion and broadcast bullying that the BBC has done its best to grapple with.

"From a personal point of view as someone who has been on the receiving end of Jon Gaunt's blunt polemic in print and on the radio, I believe that the airwaves of a great democracy would be the poorer for his absence. I urge you to reinstate Mr Gaunt's programme without delay and have offered him support in the unlikely and unfortunate event that recourse to the Human Rights Act proves necessary."

Mr Gaunt has also received the backing of an old soldier, Honorary Lieutenant Tul Bahadur Pun VC, one of only nine surviving Victoria Cross winners, and one of the three last surviving Gurkha VCs.

In another letter to TalkSport, Mr Pun writes: "Mr Gaunt was the first radio presenter to air my plight to the British people. He took up and championed my right to come and live in the UK. Mr Gaunt was one of the very first people to sign my petition on the Downing Street website, and ever since he has been one of the greatest friends to Gurkhas like me, whose only crime was to retire prior to 1997 and thus be banned from Britain. His good deeds campaigning for the Gurkhas should be taken into the balance when you consider this honourable man."

Mr Gaunt said yesterday: "Adversity breeds strange bedfellows. I am delighted in Liberty's support and truly humbled by the support of a real British hero like Mr Pun. This isn't about Jon Gaunt or 'shock jockery' – it's about freedom of expression and freedom of speech."