'Poppycock': Man's arrest for posting image of burning poppy on Facebook is condemned by civil liberties activists

 

A man who was arrested for allegedly posting a picture of a burning poppy online on Remembrance Sunday has been released on bail, amid condemnation by civil liberties activists and growing concern about threats to freedom of speech.

The 19-year-old from Canterbury, who has been named locally as Linford House, is being questioned by Kent Police on suspicion of an offence under the the Malicious Communications Act.

Freedom-of-speech campaigners accused the police of using the law to effectively arrest a man for causing offence. Leading human rights lawyer John Cooper QC offered to represent the teenager free of charge should the matter come to court.

Tim Minchin was among the comedians to speak out in favour of the arrested man’s right to cause offence. He said: You’ve a right to burn a (fake!) poppy. Whether I agree with the action is utterly irrelevant. Kent Police are out of line.” Mr House’s arrest was dubbed “poppycock” by many discussing the issue online.

Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, said the arrest was  “utterly ridiculous”. He said: “Kent Police need to urgently release this man and drop an utterly ridiculous investigation into something that has harmed no one.

“It is not illegal to offend people and, however idiotic or insensitive the picture may have been, it is certainly not worthy of arrest.

“The case highlights the urgent need to reform a law that poses a serious risk to freedom of speech after several ludicrous prosecutions in recent months.”

The teenager is alleged to have posted the image of a poppy being burned with a cigarette lighter on Facebook, along with a caption which read: “How about that you squadey c——.”

Mr Cooper QC told The Independent: “Freedom of speech is not just the freedom to say nice things, it is the freedom to say obnoxious and distasteful things as well. What we have here, is a stupid and foolish young man making an obnoxious gesture. But to potentially criminalise him and to arrest him is disproportionate and dangerous to the very fundamental freedom of speech.

“There seems to be a growing intolerance and a particular intolerance to comments made on social media. It is almost as if certain sections of society – the police – are trying to send out unwarranted heavy-handed signals which are an affront to the very rights that we hold dear.”

In March last year, Emdadur Choudhury, a member of Muslims Against Crusades (MAC), was fined £50 after burning replica poppies on the anniversary of Armistice Day.

Choudhury had denied a charge under Section 5 of the Public Order Act of burning the poppies in a way that was likely to cause “harassment, harm or distress” to those who witnessed it.

But he was guilty of a “calculated and deliberate” insult to the dead and those who mourn them when he burned two large plastic poppies during a two-minute silence on 11 November, a district judge sitting at Belmarsh magistrates’ court said.

A spokeswoman for the Royal British Legion declined to comment on the investigation in Kent.

Kent Police said in a statement: “Officers were contacted at around 4pm [on Sunday] and alerted to the picture, which was reportedly accompanied by an offensive comment.

“Following an investigation by Kent Police, a  19-year-old Canterbury man was arrested on suspicion of an offence under the Malicious Communications Act. He has been interviewed by detectives and released on police bail, pending further investigation."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor