• Free Speech in the UK: Two Absurd Convictions

    Here in the UK, the prosecutions for saying something distasteful seem to be getting more and more ridiculous. There were two just this week! Take this one for example:

    A Lancashire man who posted offensive comments on Facebook about missing five-year-old April Jones has been jailed for 12 weeks.

    Matthew Woods, 20, made a number of derogatory posts about April and missing Madeline McCann.

    He appeared at Chorley Magistrates’ Court where he admitted sending a grossly offensive public electronic communication.

    Woods, of Eaves Lane, Chorley, was handed the maximum sentence.

    Chairman of the bench, magistrate Bill Hudson, said his comments were so serious and “abhorrent” that he deserved the longest sentence they could pass, less a third to give credit for his early guilty plea.

    Offensive comments on Facebook! This is the sort of thing that can now earn you a jail term in the UK. What’s interesting is that an angry mob of about 50 people descended upon his house, presumably to try to hurt him – yet he’s the one in jail! Fine, so saying something offensive on Facebook is illegal. So what about my friend who posted anti-semitic comments recently? Why is she not in jail too? Why is the pub quiz team I was up against a couple of weeks ago not also in jail? After all, their team name was a distasteful joke about Madeline McCann. I think I could provide an endless amount of examples.

    The other case was perhaps less absurd, and the ‘guilty’ party managed to escape jail (but not state punishment):

    A man who posted an offensive Facebook message following the deaths of six British soldiers has been given a community order.

    Azhar Ahmed, 20, of Fir Avenue, Ravensthorpe, West Yorkshire, was found guilty in September of sending a grossly offensive communication.

    He said he did not think the message, which said “all soldiers should die and go to hell”, was offensive.

    Ahmed was also fined £300 at Huddersfield Magistrates’ Court.

    He will have to do 240 hours of community service over a two-year period.

    Ahmed was charged after the mother of one of the soldiers read the comments and was so upset she called the police.

    Yes, it’s pretty nasty, but so what? It’s illegal to be nasty and offensive? It seems that it is. Why are we not content with Facebook’s reporting system such that we need to get the police and the courts involved? This is a worrying trend away from free expression – I envy the US for its First Amendment.

    What do you think about these convictions and the corresponding sentences? Should we be free to say such things? What does this tell us about the UK’s commitment to free speech?



    Yet another case.  A four-month sentence for wearing an offensive t-shirt.

    A man from Greater Manchester who wore a T-shirt daubed with offensive comments about the killing of two police officers has been jailed.

    Barry Thew, 39, was arrested wearing the top with the words “one less pig perfect justice” hours after the deaths of PCs Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes.

    He admitted a public order offence and was jailed for four months at Minshull Street Crown Court in Manchester.

    Insp Bryn Williams said after the case that the T-shirt had been “appalling”.


    Category: Freedom of Expression

    Article by: Notung

    I started as a music student, studying at university and music college, and playing trombone for various orchestras. While at music college, I became interested in philosophy, and eventually went on to complete an MA in Philosophy in 2012. An atheist for as long as I could think for myself, a skeptic, and a political lefty, my main philosophical interests include epistemology, ethics, logic and the philosophy of religion. The purpose of Notung (named after the name of the sword in Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen) is to concentrate on these issues, examining them as critically as possible.