Tag Archives: Public Order Act 1986

Xenophobia

Restoring the balance: We know what's on the Home Office's so-called 'racist' vans; here's the response from human rights organisation Liberty.

Restoring the balance: We know what’s on the Home Office’s so-called ‘racist’ vans; here’s the response from human rights organisation Liberty.

Those of us who are lucky enough not to live in London have yet to see the amazing advertising vans that have been conveying instructions to Conservative-leaning voters, to treat with hatred, suspicion and contempt anybody who is not a white, Anglo-Saxon protestant.

It seems clear that these vehicles are intended to promote racism and heighten racial tension, setting British citizens against each other – because the aim is to encourage the suspicion that another person may be an illegal immigrant – in the same way Coalition policy on social security set citizens against each other by pretending it was commonplace for individuals to receive more in benefits than in paid work.

According to the Public Order Act 1986, it is an offence for a person to publish threatening, abusive or insulting material if this is intended to stir up hatred against any group in the UK, defined by reference to colour, race, nationality, citizenship or ethnic or national origins, or if it is likely to stir up hatred with regard to all the circumstances.

The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994 added an offence of intentional harassment – that it is an offence to use threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour, intending to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress. There is a defence that the conduct of the accused was reasonable. This Act was introduced by Michael Howard, who spoke in favour of the advertising vans on the BBC’s Any Questions on Friday.

The Unite union has been seeking legal advice about whether the Home Office-sponsored vans – running a week-long ‘pilot’ scheme that could be expanded to the entire country – incited racial hatred, which implies that their message was intended for domestic consumption, rather than for the benefit (sorry) of illegal aliens.

The message on the vans reads as follows: “In the UK illegally? GO HOME OR FACE ARREST. Text HOME to [a number] for free advice and help with travel documents.”

A stamp in the top-right corner reads: “106 arrests last week in your area.”

The Home Office Twitter account spent the week-long pilot period tweeting messages about the number of illegal immigrants it wished to claim had been detected or turned themselves in – and even transmitted photographs of suspects in a move that is certain to undermine claims that it was not trying to incite hatred.

And spot-checks have been taking place at railway stations, where people who were notably not white were stopped, apparently at random, by immigration officers wearing stab vests who demanded to see identification proving they were in the UK legally. It seems they became unreasonably aggressive when asked what right they had to behave like this without direct cause for suspicion.

Immigration minister Mark Harper has rejected claims that people were targeted because of their race, confirming that the law demands that officers need reason to believe an offence had been committed before stopping anybody.

He said the street operations “involved immigration officers talking to people in the local area and, where there was a reason to do so, asking questions in relation to immigration status”. Are we to take it, then, that his underlings were inviting local people to act as informants, ‘dobbing in’ people they suspected (or possibly, simply didn’t like and wanted to put into trouble)?

Harper’s argument was severely undermined when he admitted he could not reveal the different ethnicities of the people who were stopped, and their numbers, because it is not recorded – officials were told to take down only the names, dates of birth and nationalities of people they stopped.

So they didn’t record information that is vital in determining whether they have been breaking the law. Have we heard about that dodge before, Iain Duncan Smith?

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is investigating.

All of the above is the latest in the Coalition government’s continuing war against immigrants – let’s drop the word ‘illegal’ from the issue. The national debate is framed around people who come into this country – legally or not – and either take employment here or claim benefits.

The facts appear to show that the hysteria surrounding this has been blown completely out of proportion.

There is an argument to be made about enforcement of illegal immigration laws, but it is about ‘people smuggling’, cheap labour and forced labour – not about people coming here to take your job or claim benefits that they don’t deserve.

According to Scriptonite Daily, “the UK has a lower immigrant population than almost any ‘developed’ nation, these immigrants are mostly assessed via a Points Based System, only seven per cent are asylum seekers, and only 33 per cent of asylum claims are accepted.

“There is no open door.

“Finally, the immigrant population does not have access to a vast majority of the benefits available to UK citizens, the benefits they do receive are nowhere near the same value as those received by UK citizens and they are a third less likely to claim benefits than UK citizens.”

Owen Jones, speaking on Any Questions, voiced the belief that “the Conservatives, fearful of a threat from UKIP, are using taxpayers’ money to tap into people’s fears and prejudices… What we’re seeing is government-funded vans with ‘Go home’ emblazoned on them. That is a term long-associated with knuckle-dragging racists.

“We’re seeing spot-checks and racial profiling of people at tube stations. We have a woman on the news… she was born in Britain; she was told she was stopped because she ‘didn’t sound British’. And we have the official Home Office [Twitter] account being used to send gleeful tweets which show people being thrown into vans with a hashtag, ‘#immigrationoffenders’.

“Is this the sort of country you want to live in, where the Conservatives use taxpayers’ money to inflame people’s fears and prejudices in order to win political advantage? Because I don’t think most people do want that to happen.”

Moreover, it seems the authorities have created a perfect opportunity to start rounding up anybody deemed “undesirable” by the powers-that-be. Greece is already rounding up people of unorthodox sexuality, drug addicts, prostitutes, immigrants and the poor and transferring them to internment and labour camps.

Will the UK follow suit? Only last week we learned that the Coalition government was planning to expand its ‘residential Workfare for the disabled’, rounding up people with disabilities and putting them into modern-day workhouses where someone else would profit and they would receive benefits alone – because that’s how Workfare works. Now this.

This blog was criticised a couple of days ago, by a commenter invoking Godwin’s Law after an article comparing the new workhouses with Nazi concentration camps.

Every day it becomes easier to make comparisons between the current UK government and the Nazis, or other fascist-style institutions. How long will people watch and accept it before they realise what is happening?

And when will they decide to act?

When it’s too late, perhaps?

What’s your opinion?

Police move on campaigners for “criminal acts against DWP”

Having Mr Bean in the Cabinet – or at least his alter-ego, Rowan Atkinson – might not be as ridiculous as this image suggests. He talked more sense in a 10-minute presentation about free speech than the Department for Work and Pensions has in the last two and a half years.

Some of you may be aware that police invaded the home of a campaigner for Disabled People Against Cuts, living in Cardiff, just before midnight yesterday (October 26).

Apparently she had been accused of “Criminal acts against the Department for Work and Pensions” – being that she has been highlighting the deaths of sick and disabled people following reassessment by Atos and the DWP for Employment and Support Allowance.

No charges were brought against the lady concerned and it is generally considered that this was an act of intimidation.

Since then, I have been informed of three other incidents in which police either visited campaigners at home or stopped them in the street to, in colloquial terms, “put the frighteners on them”. Two were vulnerable women with mental illness, one of whom lives alone.

The forces allegedly involved were South Wales, Dyfed Powys and North Yorkshire Police.

I don’t know what legislation these constables were quoting as the legal grounds for these intrusions. It seems likely it may have been the Public Order Act, section five, which states, “(1) A person is guilty of an offence if he: (a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or (b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.”

But this applies only if a person has been the victim – not an organisation like the DWP.

If it is the Public Order Act, then this provides an opportunity to quote Rowan Atkinson’s speech at the ‘Reform Section 5’ Parliamentary reception earlier this month.

Mention of Mr Atkinson may have already invoked, in your mind, the ‘Constable Savage’ sketch from Not The 9 O’Clock News, in which a police officer is berated for arresting the same man on charges of “Walking on the cracks in the pavement”, “Walking around with an offensive wife”, and “Looking at me in a funny way”, amongst others.

If it didn’t, go and watch the speech because he makes free reference to that sketch in it.

“I suspect [I am] highly unlikely to be arrested for whatever laws exist to contain free expression because of the undoubtedly privileged position that is afforded to those of a high public profile,” said Mr Atkinson.

“My concerns are… more for those who are more vulnerable because of their lower profile – like the man arrested in Oxford for calling a police horse ‘gay’.”

He said: “Even for actions that were withdrawn, people were arrested, questioned, taken to court… and then released. That isn’t a law working properly. That is censoriousness of the most intimidating kind, guaranteed to have… a ‘chilling effect’ on free expression and free protest.”

He said: “The reasonable and well-intentioned ambition to contain obnoxious elements in society has created a society of an extraordinarily authoritarian and controlling nature. It is what you might call ‘the new intolerance’ – a new but intense desire to gag uncomfortable voices of dissent.

“Underlying prejudices, injustices or resentments are not addressed by arresting people; they are addressed by the issues being aired, argued and dealt with, preferably outside the legal process.”

Hear, hear.

Of course, this all makes the police look even worse than they’ve been made to seem in recent weeks. First the Hillsborough cover-up came out into the open, then the (many) Jimmy Savile cover-ups, and now – yet again – it seems the government is using police services across the country as a tool for political repression.

The ability to rely on an impartial system of law and order underpins the whole of British society. Use of the police in this way erodes confidence in law and order and, therefore, in society itself.

Police intimidation of those who speak out against the injustices of the DWP and its Atos employees is not only an attack on free speech; it is an attack on the entire philosophy on which our society is based.