Police in Kent have arrested a man after a picture of burning poppy was posted on a social networking site.
Taken from an article in the Guardian, the following story relates to an example of the worst kind of provocative social network use. Sadly though, despite the obvious intent to offend on Remembrance Sunday, there are some who are defending this individuals right to freedom of expression – some of them quite high profile.
Comedian Tim Minchin wrote this on his Twitter feed within the last hour:
‘To clarify: You’ve a right to burn a (fake!) poppy. Whether I agree with the action is utterly irrelevant. Kent police are out of line.’
His comments have met with strong opposition from many who have read them, but he dismisses them referring to the Poppy as a marketing tool and citing democratic rights.
Kent Police said in a short press release posted on its website that the man, from Aylesham, had been arrested on suspicion of “malicious telecommunications”.
“This follows a posting on a social network site of a burning poppy,” said the statement on Sunday, which added that he was in police custody awaiting interview. Police provided no other details of the incident, which comes as the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is preparing to release interim guidelines for prosecution of offences on social media.
Padraig Reidy, of Index on Censorship, which campaigns on freedom of expression issues, said: “News of this arrest is very worrying. Index hopes that when the CPS issues its guidelines on free speech later this month, due regard will be given to free speech online.”
The director of public prosecutions, Ken Starmer QC, announced in September that he was launching a public consultation and issue guidelines on how to deal with the daily avalanche of hundreds of millions of comments – some abusive, some potentially criminal – posted on social media sites.
According to the website of the CPS, the Malicious Communications Act 1988, section 1, “deals with the sending to another of any article which is indecent or grossly offensive, or which conveys a threat, or which is false, provided there is an intent to cause distress or anxiety to the recipient”. The website also states: “The offense covers letters, writing of all descriptions, electronic communications, photographs and other images in a material form, tape recordings, films and video recordings.”
Barring any significant mitigation such as mental illness or unauthorised access to the account of the arrested man, I can see no justification for the actions which have resulted in his arrest. Burning poppies in itself may not be illegal, but posting a photograph of this act on such a poignant day surely goes beyond the lawful nature of the act itself and crosses the line between the acceptable and the offensive. No doubt there will be further comment over the next few days, but at this time I completely endorse the actions of Kent Police in bringing this man into custody as part of an expeditious investigation.