Andy McSmith's Diary: The case of the MP, the police chief and the missing personal apology


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Indy Politics

As if the police had not already inflicted enough trouble on themselves with the plebgate saga, a Chief Constable had to ‘fess up that his force did not understand the law that protects an MP’s right to speak freely.

Martin Richards, Chief Constable of Sussex, apologised to Parliament but pointedly avoided apologising to Tim Loughton, the Tory MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, who was at the centre of the dispute.

Mr Loughton had been provoked by a constituent whom he accused of trolling him on the internet and of having “worked tirelessly to make my life hell.” Voters can sack MPs, he said, but MPs cannot sack their constituents. He was going to set a precedent by “sacking” his tiresome constituent. To ram the point home, he posted the man a copy of the relevant issue of Hansard.

His antagonist did not like that, and complained to Sussex police that being sent an anonymous package was harassment. The police issued the MP with a police information notice (Pin), warning him to desist or risk being prosecuted.

Today Mr Richards and Assistant Chief Constable Robin Merrett had to appear before the Commons Privileges Committee and make the embarrassing admission that they did not know there was an Act of Parliament passed in 1840 which means that no MP can ever be prosecuted for anything published and issued by Parliament.

“By issuing a Pin, by taking this position to the crazy extent to which the police have – that has exacerbated the situation out of all control,” Mr Loughton complained. “The notion that... the mere sending of the parliamentary record of the House of Commons can constitute an offence of harassment is extraordinary, bizarre and deeply worrying for the way we do our business…” The Chief Constable admitted his knowledge of parliamentary privilege was “not as strong as it should be” and said sorry. But when invited to say sorry to Mr Loughton, the Chief Constable simply repeated: “I have apologised to this committee.”

Mr Loughton has a bit of reputation for getting involved in verbal feuds.

Hold on to your seat, Tom

“To the researcher who just caught me reading The British Revolution 1629-1660, I apologise for the faulty lock on the lavatory door,” Tom Watson, Labour’s former deputy chairman tweeted. Mr Watson is expected to hold his seat at the next election.

Is PM an Angry Birds victim?

David Cameron once claimed to be addicted to Angry Birds, the game from which we now know that the snoopers can extract personal data about those who play it. Is the Prime Minister worried, and will he keep playing, his spokesman was asked. “We don’t comment on security issues,” he replied.

Farage and the loony right

On the very day that Nigel Farage secured a front page headline in The Times saying that the “wrong kind of people” are in Ukip, up popped the wealthy Greek-born Demetri Marchessini to remind of us what the “wrong kind” can be like. He paid for a quarter-page advertisement in the Daily Telegraph attacking the columnist Libby Purves for her comments about Russia’s treatment of gays.

“Homosexuality has been a major sin in the Christian religion for 2,000 years, and continues to be a major sin today,” he wrote.

Mr Marchessini believes that it is a sin for a woman to wear trousers – a “hostile act” in his view – and  that unmarried mothers should be slapped. He was  a major Ukip donor until May last year.