'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."

News
people
News
people And here is why...
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsWelsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
News
i100
Sport
footballLatest scores and Twitter updates
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties