The police and crime commissioner for Kent, Ann Barnes, recently appointed, as she pledged during her campaign, (now) 17 year old Paris Brown to the role of youth PCC so that she can represent younger people and offer insight into the problem of youth crime.
Yesterday, she resigned under pressure, as a result of media scrutiny over her Twitter activity. You can read some of the tweets here. Yes, they’re silly and obnoxious. However, they were sent by someone no older than 16, and while it’s easy to criticise them, I wouldn’t want anyone looking over my text messages I was sending when I was 16.
Still, there’s a valid concern over someone who is in a position of such responsibility, presumably on merit, conducting herself in that way. She’s young and has a lot to learn (as most 16 year-olds do). I’m not really interested in her suitability for the position – and it seems there are arguments on each side.
What really got my back up was this decision; for Kent Police to investigate her tweets for ‘criminal’ content:
Kent Police said it was investigating the circumstances to determine whether any offences had been committed.
The force said it had received on Monday a number of complaints about statements posted on social media.
I’m writing on free speech at the moment (when finished I will provide a contents page of links to each section), and I believe firmly in the right to speak or tweet our minds without the fear of punishment by the state. So the fact that she’s being investigated for criminal activity on Twitter angers me, regardless of the exact kind of tweeting she was doing.
However, I think it is even more ridiculous than that. Firstly, she was 16. These are the sort of silly things that some 16 year olds say to each other, on Twitter, by text, on Facebook, etc., and the state doesn’t usually bat an eyelid. Yes, we need to educate 16 year olds (and everyone else) so they aren’t referring to immigrants as ‘illegals’ or calling gay people ‘fags’, but criminalising such speech is both grossly disproportionate and would create a lot of extra work for the police.
Secondly, it seems that the only reason she is being investigated over this is the media scrutiny as a result of her appointment to a widely publicised role. Why her and not the people I just saw using the same kind of language? Just search on Twitter for the term ‘fag’ or ‘illegals’ and click ‘All’. Find the ones who are in the UK, and ask yourself why Paris Brown deserves to have her tweets examined by the police instead of these people.
To sum up – I have no quarrels about her stepping down, although I think Ann Barnes was on to something when in her statement she wrote:
I was not recruiting an angel, and I was not recruiting a police officer. I was recruiting a young person, warts and all. I think it would have been absolutely impossible to have found a young person who had not made a silly, foolish or even perhaps a deeply offensive comment during their short lifetime.
I know I have. But regardless – I strongly oppose the idea that tweets should be examined for criminal offences.