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Free speech? Man arrested for burning poppy photo

Poppy

By Stewart Mitchell

Posted on 12 Nov 2012 at 08:26

Kent police has sparked outrage among free speech advocates after arresting a man for posting a picture of a burning poppy on Remembrance Sunday.

The arrest is the latest example of the police's heavy-handed approach to social networking, and comes as the Crown Prosecution Service is contemplating guidelines on how to apply rules on what can and can't be said without risking arrest.

What was the point of winning either World War if, in 2012, someone can be casually arrested by @kent_police for burning a poppy?

"A man from Aylesham has tonight been arrested on suspicion of malicious telecommunications," Kent police said in a statement after the arrest. "This follows a posting on a social network site of a burning poppy. He is currently in police custody awaiting interview."

Lawyers and campaigners have taken to Twitter to criticise the arrest. "Dear idiots at @kent_police, burning a poppy may be obnoxious, but it is not a criminal offence," tweeted legal commentator David Allen Green, who rose to prominence when working on the case of "Twitter bomber" Paul Chambers.

"What was the point of winning either World War if, in 2012, someone can be casually arrested by @kent_police for burning a poppy?"

The arrest was made under section 127 of the Communications Act, which states that someone can be guilty of an offence if they "send by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character".

The law has come under fire in the past because it is too difficult to define what is "grossly offensive", rather than merely offensive.

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User comments

There's a BIG Difference....

...between legitimate comment and insulting, abusive provocation. Which is what this 'action' constitutes - especially in Remembrance week. He's only able to claim 'freedom of speech' because others died to defend his 'right - and he now chooses to abuse their memory?

By incognitii on 12 Nov 2012

Abusing their memory?

You said yourself they died to defend the right of free speech. Did they leave a list of people covered by this right?
I find your inconsistency grossly offensive... POLICE!

By dubiou on 12 Nov 2012

Freedom to offend

We should all have the freedom to offend each other. I don't want to live in a world where we can't express our views.

His views are obnoxious but that is all. We all disagree with each other in some way.

Freedom of speech has to be absolute.

I find what some politicians say to be obnoxious, should they be arrested?

By Grunthos on 12 Nov 2012

@dubiou

You're obviously a pretty shallow person. All rights have responsibilities - and freedom of speech requires sensitivity to others.
As one of those who have exchanged fire in the name of the Crown, and seen people die - I find YOUR naivete and shallowness leaves me despairing...!

By incognitii on 12 Nov 2012

Here we go again...

@incognitii - yes, others died to defend his right to act like a pillock. It is also worth remembering that no-one should have to right to 'not be offended'. If you find his actions offensive then deal with it.

By The_Scrote on 12 Nov 2012

@ Grunthos

The word here is PROVOCATION - an act deliberately committed to incite.

I dispute your assertion that this is merely an exercise of freedom of speech

By incognitii on 12 Nov 2012

Free speech is al very well but...

As a society we need to draw the line somewhere. Personally, I think dis-respecting the memory of those who fell in the two world wars is 'beyond the pale' (yes I know the history associated with that phrase). Or we'll have more of this sort of thing;

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/mar/07/muslim-ex
tremist-fined-for-poppy-burning

By rjp2000 on 12 Nov 2012

Provocation

It has provoked a debate.That can only be good - unless the debate turns into a slanging match.
If you knew me you would never describe me as shallow. I can totally empathise with your viewpoint, but in your case it is personal whereas I have some emotional detachment.

By dubiou on 12 Nov 2012

@dubiou

So because I've seen service I'm incapable of rational, detached analysis and comment?
That's pretty shallow - and naive - and glib - wouldn't you say? Not to mention completely wrong - as all my experience has taught me completely dispassionate analysis of any situation.

By incognitii on 12 Nov 2012

Big picture, anyone?

So some of you do manage to find a picture of burning paper flower grossly offensive, and manage to translate that offence into the need for censorship. Don't any of you see the irony in that?
Nobody here is denying that service personnel are worthy of remembrance - I wouldn't wish the horror of war on anyone - but to claim that the poppy is a motif so sacred that it trumps the rights those very people it represents died for strikes me as absurd.
I don't wear poppies. The reason is that I can usually spot someone judging me - what they don't know is that I still donate. Maybe they think I'm shallow. Maybe they only see life from their own perspective.

By dubiou on 12 Nov 2012

incognitii

Strawman argument.

By dubiou on 12 Nov 2012

What kind of Sociey are we

The millions who gave their life did not do so so that we have a similar type of society as the one they fought against. For police to arrest someone for a belief, no matter how unreasonable shows that we are heading to the same sort of state that we most deplore.

Its a burning poppy. So what?

By fionapro on 12 Nov 2012

Provocation

When I last looked, any act designed to incite a Breach of the Peace was a criminal offence?

By incognitii on 12 Nov 2012

Posting the following link to the picture of my clearly damaged poppy may have made this website totally illegal http://flic.kr/p/dsGBg3 - sorry!

By revsorg on 12 Nov 2012

Provocation

You appear to know the precise reason for the posting of the picture before even the police.
This does not fill me with confidence in your objectivity.

By dubiou on 12 Nov 2012

Ridiculous over-reaction

@icogniti -sorry, but you are wrong (and repetitive!) on this.

The first thing to be said is that 'philosophically' at least, freedom is indivisible. You can't be partly free, any more than you can be slightly pregnant.

Part of the freedoms we enjoy in UK is that of offending and being offended. Some behaviours, like false accusations of wrongdoing are illegal, but you are free to choose to do it if you want to \believe it to be correct. You have the freedom to choose.

So sorry incogniti, but this person should be left unmolested by the law for (implicitly) expressing an opinion (anybody know why it was done?). The alternative is precisely what my parents' generation fought to prevent....

By wittgenfrog on 12 Nov 2012

Half of the story

What was the person trying to say by burning it, how fast a memory can fade. The possible irrelevance of the physical manifestation of poppy itself against the actual memory. You dont need a poppy to remember. etc

By davidk1962 on 12 Nov 2012

"He's only able to claim 'freedom of speech' because others died to defend his 'right'"

Exactly, that's what freedom of speech is all about. That's why it's called freedom of speech and not restriction of speech.

Oh and by the way, it's a right, not a 'right'.

Anyhoo, back to the actual story.

My local council burns rubbish in a furnace to create heat for a district heating network.

If I put my poppy in the bin and they burn it, is a crime being committed?

I'm confused. I need someone like incognitii to tell me what to do and think. And of course, what to say online.

Heaven knows what might happen otherwise.

By Alfresco on 12 Nov 2012

Intent is everything

If posted simply to cause anger, grief, pain etc then he's got it coming. Back in the day we'd have been allowed to knock some sense into someone that gets his kicks from hurling insults at people. Now they just get a £50 fine. That's what the last person burning poppies on Remembrance Day got.

As to whether burning a poppy is grossly insulting, he's effectively pissing on the memorial of peoples' grandfather/dad/brother/son.

If he'd done this in private, or emailed it to a friend, there wouldn't be a problem. Thing is he's published it to the world.

Finally, some of you grow up. ***WW1 and WW2 WERE NOT FOUGHT TO PROTECT FREE SPEECH***

By Mark_Thompson on 12 Nov 2012

Intent

Isn't it all about intent and clearly the poster intended to be provocative and insulting.

Its not as if they were posting a constructive criticism of UK foreign policy - its just some f-wit trying to be clever.

Of course, if they assume that freedom of speech is genuine then they can't decry things like the Danish cartoons.

But of course it doesn't work like that - in their minds freedom of speech only works one way... their way.

Freedom of expression should be honoured to the point where it becomes offensive and provocative. This crosses the line for me...

By MikeHellier on 12 Nov 2012

Another example of "catch all" laws that have made their way across the pond from that united in-a-state of America.

The law is open ended, it doesn't actually define what "grossly offensive" is. And why should it? Why should some one try and define something that is undefinable. What is offensive to one isn't to others -as stated above.

It's another nanny state law, that has bigger implications than first thought.

Why should we be ruled by a corrupt, (proven to be so) government who's representatives actively stole from the country and allow them to define the laws that govern us? Because the British people are too set in our ways to rise up and take back what is ours that's why.

Change is coming.

By TigerUnleashed on 12 Nov 2012

Symbolism

...so it's just a poppy....freedom of speech.....

Do you venerate/worship/respect icons, shrines, temples, churches, holy sites, walls, holy books, religious emblems, national flags, national sites?

Do you respect people's right to attach religious or personal significance to the above?

How would you regard, say, bulldozing Stonehenge as a expression of free speech?

To all those posters who have defended the right absolutely I ask: where do you draw the line? Surely I too have the right not to have MY values traduced?

By incognitii on 12 Nov 2012

Sound and fury signifying ....?

A classic example of "Daily Mail" knee-jerk politics: I'm 'offended' so let's ban it\him\them etc.

We in the West live in a cosy little bubble of security & prosperity, under the rule of law.

One thing that the 'Rule of Law' brings to the table is that cliques & cadres of the 'offended' are unable to form-up with their torches & pitchforks and persecute anyone they take a dislike to. The forces of the Far-Right, epitomised by elements of the Press & Tory party keep picking up issues like this in order to undermine those rights deriving from Law, but so-far thankfully they have failed.

As others have observed the 'intent' of the poster is crucial here. I still don't know what it was. However, on its own the act of burning a 'poppy' signifies nothing, irrespective of the sound & fury it seems to have generated.

The notion that somehow your freedom is enhanced, by curtailing that of others is not unique to today's Right-whinge. It was current in both the Nazi Party and Stalin's Russian Communists.

My father (now dead, sadly) was a staunch Tory of the 'old' school. He may not have articulated the notion that he was fighting for 'freedom of speech', but he was most certainly fighting AGAINST tyranny and intolerance.

I don't claim to speak for him, or his friends & colleagues, but I did speak with them, and I know what they thought, and what they wanted.

By wittgenfrog on 12 Nov 2012

Even if he posted it just to 'be insulting', that is irrelevant.

It's the people who are 'insulted' who have a problem. They offend me, so will someone please arrest them all!

By omnisvalidus on 12 Nov 2012

Answers

No
Not really
I wouldn't since that has inherent value.

Your values are precisely as valid as everyone else's.

By dubiou on 12 Nov 2012

It's Nuts!

If it is slander or libel then sue him, if it is a threat or incitement then arrest him. But if it is an opinion however vile, we must tolerate it. We are supposed to be free to think and believe what we like, offend and be offended. When we censor opinions we don't like or agree with none of us are free. Let them show their ignorance and be ignored and ostracised. Educate people, don't gag them. "With the first link, the chain is forged".
People are sensitive to different things. Who draws the line?
I don't have the right to curtail your rights through my actions e.g. destroy Stonehenge (@incognitii) but I have every right to mock it if I find it ridiculous. Feel free to mock my opinion. That is why they are MY opinion. They don't need to be yours.

By thefarhad on 12 Nov 2012

@omnisvalidus

Shouldn't you be in school?

By incognitii on 12 Nov 2012

@incognitii Shouldn't you be in custody?

By omnisvalidus on 12 Nov 2012

incognitii's posts are clearly designed to incite the anger of those who venerate free speech.

Clearly he is a dangerous criminal and therefore must be arrested and silenced without delay.

By omnisvalidus on 12 Nov 2012

Summary judgement

"I'm incapable of rational, detached analysis and comment?" - incognitii
Yes.

...
Hey, it's fun and easy to judge people without making the slightest effort to understand them! No wonder he keeps doing it :)

By dubiou on 12 Nov 2012

Good grief...

@incognitii "How would you regard, say, bulldozing Stonehenge as a expression of free speech?" Another ridiculous comparison - that would be criminal damage to someone else's property. I presume the poppy was his own and therefore nothing to do with anyone else.

What you find offensive many of us don't, and with that kind of ambiguity he cannot be accused of causing it wholesale.

By The_Scrote on 12 Nov 2012

This law has more to do with protecting politicians from the opinions of ordinary people than it does about anything else. Tory MP, Lousie Mensch, one of Cameron's girlie superstars, resigned as an MP because when she went on programs like Newsnight her one-sided opinions were blasted to pieces on Twitter shortly afterwards; it seems to me that politicians want the ability to inflict their unchallenged views on the rest of us, and want us arrested for doing the same in reverse.

As for the poppy burning, if someone needs a poppy in order to remember dead comrades, it is a sad day - just as it is sad that someone might seek to belittle such sacrifices.

However, from an artistic perspective, a burning poppy to me could represent far more closely the sacrifice and loss of human life that the piece of red paper and black plastic represents; watching the body of the poppy burn is reminiscent of seeing a comrade in arms die, it is far more poignant and powerful a symbol of remembrance, of really bringing home to people that once this was a person who has now gone, something beautiful that has been lost forever, except to our memories. It talks more of the folly of armed conflict and of the folly of people who take to violence, or of politicians who safe in their bunkers send the young out to die.

Life is too precious, and too short even for the longest lived of us, to become angry because of things other people do. Anger is self-destructive, it solves nothing, and usually only affects the person who gets angry. Whichever side you are on, forgive those that trespass against you, turn the other cheek, give anger up and find peace. Hold on to the good, let the bad pass by.

By SwissMac on 12 Nov 2012

Hitler would be proud. Look how far we have come to implement his grand visions.

By playno on 12 Nov 2012

Don't try to blame us for the behavior of your government.

> Another example of
> "catch all" laws that
> have made their way
> across the pond from
> that united in-a-state
> of America.

Such laws are illegal here in the USA.

By John_Hasler on 12 Nov 2012

@ incognitii

What most seem to have ignored from your very first comment is this:

"He's only able to claim 'freedom of speech' because others died to defend his 'right - and he now chooses to abuse their memory?"

Who claimed this? Who said this? It certainly wasn't the man arrested in Kent - so how are you attributing comments, thoughts and actions to him already?

I'm not saying that you won't be proven correct - that he did this specifically to cause offence - but you don't *know* that at this moment in time. So why are stating these things as fact? Why are you getting angry at imagining what he has said?

I think you *want* to be offended and have jumped on the Daily Mail-bandwagon - stereotypical kneejerk reaction of engaging Outrage Glands™ before brain.

By bioreit on 12 Nov 2012

USA 1st Amendment

Wow, one of those times I'm glad I live in the USA where such restrictions on free speech are patently illegal. Distasteful speech is protected by law here, as it is a slippery slope to say that some minority viewpoints are not allowed.

By llamahunter on 12 Nov 2012

Free speech includes not only the inoffensive but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative provided it does not tend to provoke violence. Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having. Sedley LJ in Redmond-Bate v DPP [1999] 163 JP 48 p953

By Beagle on 12 Nov 2012

Free speech includes not only the inoffensive but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative provided it does not tend to provoke violence. Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having. Sedley LJ in Redmond-Bate v DPP [1999] 163 JP 48 p953

By Beagle on 12 Nov 2012

History lesson

The most obvious proponents of this kind of state control of what is acceptable were those other winners of the world war: the Soviet Union.

I do think the police need some guidelines - we can't exactly blame them for the law: that's politicians.

By PeterParslow on 12 Nov 2012

@Beagle

I can only agree. We seem to be turning in to the PC version of a police state.

Footballers can cripple each others without fear, but a few words are worth and 8 match ban. Telling a joke on twitter will get you a month in prison, but burglary is only worth a caution. Something is very wrong with society. If someone is rude and obnoxious just ignore it. If Kent police had seen sense this idiot would have gone completely unnoticed.

By tirons1 on 12 Nov 2012

Completely specious argument

@incognitii:

"How would you regard, say, bulldozing Stonehenge as a expression of free speech?"

Only a complete idiot could seriously compare the burning of one's own personal made-in-China, mass-produced poppy, to the destruction of a unique national monument.

By BemusedAmerican on 12 Nov 2012

Stand back for a moment and consider...

Perhaps the burning of the poppy itself is a comment on the ridiculous fascistic responses to such things as burning of poppies. The men whose deaths are signified by the poppies might not wish that the poppies themselves become such an issue. They are, in fact, betrayed by those who would make the poppy itself such an idol.

By Mr_Evilwrench on 13 Nov 2012

friendly warning

The most horrifying thing for me is how many of you defend arresting this guy.

I am a member of a generation growing up in a country ruled by a totalitarian regime... and on many occasions I have noticed that we have certain sensitivity to warning signs that you people born in a free country do not. Unlike you, we have experience where stuff like this can lead.

You let a man who you dislike go to prison for offending something sacred to you... and next time it can be you going to prison. Because anything can be defined as grossly offensive. Lady driving a car? Teaching evolution in schools? Wearing a t-shirt of certain colour? Anything. Next thing you know you live in a society where the most ruthless people can destroy you just by claiming you offended some sacred cow, you never feel safe, you get blackmailed on daily basis and you just start saying what the most unscrupulous people want you to say (because those people are most willing to twist anything you say against you) instead what you really think.

This thing is too easy to abuse. You disagree with sending innocent people to labour camps? You are "destroying peace" or "offending working class"... to prison with you. You might think I am exaggerating... but I know better than you. In a country where I was born many people have been stripped off of almost everything they had and sent to work in mines and labour camps just for having a different opinion than the official and "the only right" opinion.

I had lived in UK for a few years, I had watched the rise of surveillance society and censorship attempts and I am telling you that IMO you are going in a very bad direction recently and you are on the best way to loose your freedom. Many of you mean well... but this is the road to hell paved with good intentions.

By janbilek on 13 Nov 2012

@janbilek

Thank you. That pretty much says it all.

By dconf on 13 Nov 2012

@janbilek

You say he will go to prison. The last people to burn poppies did it at a remembrance parade and were fined £50.

By Mark_Thompson on 13 Nov 2012

@Mark_Thompson

I am not saying this specific guy will go to prison - although I think that even arresting someone for 48 hours can be way more traumatizing than you might think and is totally unreasonable for what he did.
I am saying that this is the slippery slope. This is how it starts. The fact that you can accept that someone can be punished for expressing his opinion, however offensive... even if it's just a fine... this is exactly what I am talking about - this is the warning sign, you should be horrified but you don't have the sensitivity to recognize seriousness of the threat that you are facing.
Of course it's not going to turn into totalitarian regime over night - it takes years. But it becomes inevitable way before you might realize. When your freedoms had already been stripped away and people spend years in jail for their opinions it's too late to fight, it's even to late to escape from the country.
Now might be your last opportunity to do something. But you don't fight. You might even think I am some nut freaking out about nothing. Well... it's just experience. My grandfather had to work in a mine just because he was a policeman who refused to join the communist party which was found highly offensive to "working class". My grandmother's family had a farm taken away from them and their son was not allowed to study - he himself did not even say anything - he was just labelled as "unreliable" because of his parents. And it all started on the same slippery slope.

By janbilek on 13 Nov 2012

Nice work if you can get it, eh Kent police?

Why bother putting in for a gruelling shift patrolling chav estates when you can swing the lead arresting a silly boy for " malicious telecommunications" instead?

By poke36879 on 14 Nov 2012

why should I support the poppy anyway

I am italian and although grateful to the "allies" for freeing my country do not really give a damn about the English legion or the English army so anytime I see people with a poppy or offering them for charity I am absolutely not interested. Ok I reside in this country but for me the poppy appeal is totally irrelevant. Moreover my father was made to serve in the British Foreign legion (1942 he was born in 1925) for 4 years when he was only 15 (captured in Libia while trying to reach Italy to get to see his sister dying of TBC in Rome and coerced to serve by the British) so I should have quite a bit of disdain towards the whole organization if not downright anger.
So please let freedom of speech have its own way...today they arrest a 19 year old for burning a poppy, tomorrow maybe a person like me who does not give a damn about the whole thing? How many people are foreigners living here and having to "put up" with the poppy appeal every year when they actually do not give a damn?

By aralerm on 14 Nov 2012

>>> Why bother putting in for a gruelling shift patrolling chav estates when you can swing the lead arresting a silly boy for " malicious telecommunications" instead?

My thoughts exactly!

By scoobie on 15 Nov 2012

jimbo

I think this little weasel should be sent out to Afghanistan to experience what our service men and women are still doing in the name of freedom. I heartily applaud the actions of the Kent police and hope the judiciary will back them up by imprisoning this disgusting person. I'm sure there are various charges with which to convict him. I hope they throw the book at him. As for the so-called Free Speech advocates, the world has gone too far in bending over to placate them and their like. The action by that person has nothing to do with free speech in any case.

By kandie7 on 15 Nov 2012

Police Independant?

Police are viewed as independant, which is why a PC's word has value in a court of Law. However
when a female police officer investigating a burglary thinks "PC World" is a fellow officer, we need to evaluate just how relaible the word, opinion, and judgement of the Police is. (Ref: The Wright Stuff, Thursday 15th)

By Leemer on 15 Nov 2012

Five entries?

How did that happen? lol

By Leemer on 15 Nov 2012

@kandie7
I think you'd be better off over at dailymail.co.uk for ill-informed rants over this week's 'outrage'. Keep in mind that no matter how many times you say something has 'nothing to do with free speech' doesn't make it true. For free speech to have any meaning whatsoever it needs to protect opinions (and people) that most people find disgusting or odious.

As long as this man didn't steal the poppy or hurt anyone in the process of burning it he has done nothing wrong.

By happyskeptic on 15 Nov 2012

Nazi State

Every day this country is slowly but surely moving closer and closer to becoming a Nazi state. I'm sure Incognitii would like the opportunity to apply (or kill some one) to become Chancellor.

As for people being offended, more and more people are making "being offended" into a hobby and I'm offended by that. If you're offended by what I've just said, that's tough, get over it, get a life and take a good look at how perfect you're not.

By shrek59 on 15 Nov 2012

@janbilek
I reject the claim for slippery slope, not because politicians have introduced laws that are out of proportion to the harm they seek to mitigate and can be subverted or used to target offences far removed from the ones the were intended for (there are plenty of other laws that do that) but because this is a "common sense" law that makes up the the taking away of our right to punch someone that grossly offends us. It gives them a small fine instead.
Whether this law should apply to postings published to the internet at large, rather than sent to groups or people, is a good point for debate.

@shrek59
Godwin's law? Really? Restrictions on speech are common to most societies.

By Mark_Thompson on 18 Nov 2012

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