Good news in today’s Times:
Priti Patel is to stop police from recording so-called hate incidents that are not crimes over fears that the policy is blighting employment prospects and curbing free speech.
Government sources confirmed that the home secretary has told the College of Policing to drop guidance to forces that those accused of non-criminal incidents should have them recorded on police files.
In a letter to the college — the body that oversees the training of officers in England and Wales — Patel expressed concern that hate incident records ruin lives when they are disclosed as part of vetting processes such as the Home Office’s disclosure and barring service.
Patel instructed the college to review the reporting of non-crime hate incidents, which can lead to individuals being put at a disadvantage in their daily lives, most significantly when applying for jobs. At present, if someone is reported for committing a hate incident but an investigation finds that no criminal offence occurred, the report will nonetheless remain on their police record.
One such incident involved Darren Grimes, the former Liberal-Democrat activist and Brexit campaigner, who was recorded as being involved in a non-crime hate incident last year by Scotland Yard. Detectives investigated him after he produced a podcast with David Starkey in which the historian said that slavery could not be equated with genocide because there are “so many damn blacks”.
A Whitehall source said: “These so called non-crime hate incidents have a chilling effect on free speech and potentially stop people expressing views legally and legitimately. If people are found to have done nothing wrong the police shouldn’t punish them.”
Freedom of speech campaigners welcomed the home secretary’s message to police and called for the recording of non-crime hate incidents to be scrapped completely.
“This is a step in the right direction,” said Harry Miller, a former police officer who founded the group Fair Cop, which campaigns for reform of the hate incident guidance issued by the college. “But the government should ditch the recording of non-hate crime incidents as they are fundamentally wrong and remove the presumption of innocence.”
Last year a High Court judge rejected Miller’s claim that the recording of a non-crime hate incident relating to him was unlawful. Miller has appealed and the Court of Appeal ruling is expected this year.
In submissions to the appeal court the College of Policing said the recording of incidents where actions fall short of the criminal threshold came as a result of a recommendation in the Stephen Lawrence inquiry report in 1999. It said that crimes and incidents should be recorded based on the “perception of the victim or any other person”.
Another campaigner pressing for the recording of non-crime hate incidents to be dropped, Sarah Phillimore, a barrister, welcomed Patel’s letter, adding that she “sees which way the wind is blowing”.
Phillimore was reported for a non-crime hate incident last year after she made comments on social media that referred to male offenders who claimed to be transgender and who were housed in women’s prisons as “men”.
“I can see no lawful basis for this practice which has led me to be recorded in secret by my own police force twice in the last 12 months,” Phillimore said yesterday.
The barrister said that she had been victimised “for doing nothing other than exercising my rights to protected political speech … it is ludicrous to suggest I present any kind of risk to my community”.
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