Police in the East Sussex town of Hastings are threatening criminal charges against a tenant who published satirical cartoons on a website about a rogue landlord.
Though the tenant’s allegations of harassment by the landlord are not being pursued by the police, which says their dispute is purely a ‘civil matter’, PC Toby Spires has said she must take her satirical cartoons off the web or face arrest, prosecution and possibly eviction. And even if she complies, he says she may still face action.
Her friendly local copper further claimed that even if other publications or websites routinely carry satirical material without prosecution, this ‘does not make the behaviour any less illegal. Just because someone else has committed a similar crime and the victim has not reported it does not constitute a legal defence.’ One of the tenant’s cartoons accompanies this article so you can judge for yourself the full extent of her criminality.
The move by the Hastings bobby is an obvious example of a police constable flexing his muscles against a soft target. But continuing this line with the tenant can surely only end with embarrassment for the local force if you consider the likes of Private Eye magazine has prominently featured satirical cartoons in each edition for at least 40 years.
Because if Hastings police does decide to take the matter further, they will undoubtedly face an uncomfortable discussion about what constitutes free speech in a democracy.
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