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Police are not allowed to record non-crime hate incidents because someone is offended

Suella Braverman has endorsed new guidelines requiring officers to prioritize freedom of speech – Leon Neal/PA

Police are prohibited from recording non-crime hate incidents just because someone is offended, according to plans announced Monday by Suella Braverman.

The Home Secretary has endorsed new guidelines requiring officers to prioritize freedom of speech over offensive, controversial or derogatory language that upsets people.

Officers should only record incidents that are motivated by deliberate hostility and pose a real risk of escalating to significant damage.

The aim is to reduce the number of non-crime hate incidents recorded by 120,000 people over the past five years. They include “trivial” cases such as a Bedfordshire man who was given a police record for whistling the theme song to Bob the Builder to his neighbour, who perceived racial hatred.

The new guidance drafted by the College of Policing follows the case of Harry Miller, a retired police officer who won a free speech battle after being visited by his local police for tweeting about transgender rights. The Court of Appeal ruled that the police action had violated his human rights.

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Ms Braverman said: “I have been deeply concerned by reports of police being unfairly involved in legal debates in this country. We’ve made it clear that when recording so-called non-crime hate crimes, officers should always put freedom of expression first.

“The new code will ensure that police prioritize their efforts where it is really needed and focus on tackling serious crimes such as burglary, violent crimes, rape and other sex crimes.”

The 40-page directive tells police to use their “common sense” and “judgment” so that they only record non-crime hate incidents where it is “proportionate” and “necessary” to do so and in a way that is not restrict freedom of expression.

Officers are advised to look for a common sense reason not to record an incident if the complaint is trivial, irrational or malicious.

The guidance cited the case of an individual who tweeted that a person’s biological sex is more important than self-identified gender, and should be prioritized in decisions about access to same-sex spaces.

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When handling a police complaint about this, officers are told that this would not be recorded as a non-crime hate incident because the “views exemplify a person exercising their free speech to outline a personal belief.”

“A reasonable person would accept the discussion as a contribution to a legitimate debate, even if he found it offensive or disagreed with it,” the guidance said.

‘Chilling effect on freedom of expression’

Police are urged “to make every effort to prevent a chilling effect on freedom of expression (including, but not limited to, legitimate debate, humour, satire and personal views).”

The guidance cited as an example a complaint of racial abuse against a social influencer who made “one-liner” jokes about identity-based stereotypes. Because there was no evidence of intent to incite hatred or attack an individual, it would be disproportionate to encroach on their freedom of speech, officers said.

To reduce bureaucracy, officers are advised that they can record incidents without the names of the individuals or a lengthy investigation to identify them, if there is evidence that a comment is motivated by hostility but there is no risk of it escalating to significant damage.

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The guidance cited the example of a heterosexual clubber who was verbally abused when leaving a room with LGBT friends. Simply recording the incident without any personal details prevents police from wasting time investigating, but highlights the need for a greater police presence in the future to prevent a recurrence.

Stephen Watson, Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, said: “It is not automatically illegal to say or do things that could be unpleasant, hurtful, distasteful or offensive.

“This directive is full of sensible provisions to protect victims of hate crime and makes a better distinction between what the police should involve and what, in a free country, emphatically does not.”

Chris Philp, the police minister, said the government is committed to fighting the scourge of hate crime but that “police must continue to focus on catching dangerous criminals and bringing them to justice”.

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