‘Fairy tale’ sign may be offensive
Pensioner gets a police warning
THE PLODS in Boston, Lincolnshire, aren’t looking too clever today following news that they warned a local pensioner that an anti-religious sign he placed in a window of his home could lead to his arrest if someone took offence at it.
John Richards’ sign simply states an obvious truth:
Religions are fairy stories for adults.
Local police, according to this report, descended on Richards, and told him if he persists on displaying the sign at his Vauxhall Road home, it could breach the Public Order Act by distressing passers-by.
Following the Boston Standard’s initial report this morning, Lincolnshire police issued a statement to clarify their position. Officers say that they have not told John Richards he is actually committing an offence for displaying the poster but said he could face arrest if he does cause offence and refuses to take the poster down if ordered to do so.
Police said the 1986 Public Order Act states that a person is guilty of an offence if they display a sign which is threatening or abusive or insulting with the intent to provoke violence or which may cause another person harassment, alarm or distress.
The statement adds:
This is balanced with a right to free speech and the key point is that the offence is committed if it is deemed that a reasonable person would find the content insulting. If a complaint is received by the police in relation to a sign displayed in a person’s window, an officer would attend and make a reasoned judgement about whether an offence had been committed under the Act.
In the majority of cases where it was considered that an offence had been committed, the action taken by the officer would be to issue words of advice and request that the sign be removed. Only if this request were refused might an arrest be necessary. Very explicit or grossly offensive material may be dealt with under alternative legislation.
Among the first to express support for Richards was the National Secular Society, which plans to use Richards as a case study in its fight to reform the Public Order Act. Section 5 dictates that it is an offence to display any sign which is threatening, abusive or insulting, and could cause distress. The NSS wants this section scrapped.
NSS President Terry Sanderson is quoted as saying:
These kind of cases are completely over the top. People have got to learn to get a thicker skin.
We feel very strongly that he should be able to do this – it is a very mild poster. I don’t think it is threatening, surely in a democratic society you have got to be able to say that.
He hasn’t come a cropper with the police yet but if he does we would give him some support.
The police said I could be arrested if somebody complained, and said they were insulted, but the sign was up two years ago and nobody responded or smashed the window.
I am an atheist and I feel people are being misled by religion … I accept that the police emphasised the words could lead to an arrest but the implication is a threat to free speech which surely should be fought.
Hat tip: Adam Tjaavk and Angela K