Hate crime, a batty old lady and freedom

Daily Mail
17.11.2009
By Allison Pearson

What kind of a country is it where a racist who says the idea of two men kissing is ‘really creepy’ is allowed on the BBC’s main current affairs show, but a Christian grandmother who objects to a gay pride march is accused of committing a hate crime?

A deeply confused country which has lost all sense of perspective, not to mention its entire collection of marbles, I would say.

Poor Pauline Howe was understandably shaken when two coppers turned up on her doorstep to question her in connection with a ‘hate incident’.

Mrs Howe, 67, had written a letter to Norwich City Council complaining about its decision to allow a gay pride march.

She described homosexuals as ’sodomites’ and claimed that ‘their perverted sexual practices were responsible for the downfall of every empire’.

Now I happen to find Pauline’s opinions quite batty. Her grasp of history seems almost as shaky as Nick Griffin’s.

Nonetheless, Mrs Howe’s views on homosexuals are held by many people of her generation and they accord with a certain hardline interpretation of the Bible.

In a free country, she should be entitled to express such views peacefully. But not if the thought police at Norwich council have any say in the matter.

Bridget Buttinger, the deputy chief executive, wrote back to Pauline warning that she could face criminal charges.

‘As a local authority we have a duty to eliminate discrimination of all kinds. A hate incident is any incident that is perceived by the victim or any other person as being motivated by prejudice or hatred.’

A duty to eliminate discrimination of all kinds? God help us, they can’t even sort out the recycling of milk cartons.

As for the idea that a hate crime is any incident perceived by anybody at all to be a bit unkind, well, half the population has almost certainly been guilty of one of those since the alarm clock went off this morning.

Letters like Mrs Howe’s are what the bin was invented for. Like any newspaper columnist, I get my share of green-ink post. It contains opinions on evils from Jewish conspiracies to those power- crazed heartless Jezebels otherwise known as working mothers.

If any letter is particularly horrible, I sharpen my poisoned pen and do my damnedest to refute it.

Mainly, I put such letters where they belong - with the rubbish. I would not dream of alerting the police, even when I am personally offended.

In fact, I would be absolutely distraught at the threat to our freedom if the police were to take seriously a request to arrest someone for expressing an opinion, unless it was a direct incitement to violence.

Norfolk Constabulary has defended its action against Pauline Howe as ‘ proportionate’. It was nothing of the kind. It was petty, bullying and ridiculous.

Only yesterday, the Mail reported how record numbers of middle-aged people are being criminalised over footling incidents by target-chasing police.

In London, a man who discovered a gun used by a local gang in a plastic bag and took it home for safekeeping failed to get a single officer to come out and collect it.

Meanwhile, one old lady in Norfolk in possession of nothing more lethal than a Parker pen got two constables lecturing her on the ‘effect words can have on other people’.

If we are going to label an indignant letter from an elderly Christian lady - however distasteful - as a hate incident, what words shall we reserve for the truly hateful?

There is still plenty of mindless hatred out there. Trying to silence those who express their religious beliefs will not make it go away.

No doubt Pauline Howe, who has led a blameless life for almost seven decades, is now a juicy statistic in some smug Hate Crimes file. Result: a law-abiding woman’s faith in the criminal justice system takes another knock. And so does ours.

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