You know those weirdos that are often hanging around railway stations? The ones that look like they still live with their Mother and are always scribbling into their little notebooks? Well they’re the British Transport Police (BTP). They’re exactly the same as regular cops. Same powers of arrest, rank structure, pension – everything the same. Actually not everything – they’re not as systematically racist as regular cops because it’s more difficult to stop search a train. (It’s okay some of these are jokes )
On 10th July 2020 the Guardian newspaper printed a story about a potentially offensive T-shirt.
I was going to send this Plod Blog in as a direct response to the article – but I sent in my piece on a police perspective in respect of the death of George Floyd and they wouldn’t print that and so I doubt they’ll consider printing a police perspective on this story either. Quite right too. Who wants to know what those whiny, pointy-headed, flat-foots think?
On June 3rd this year Jessie-Lu Flynn was in Oxford Circus, on her way back from a Black Lives Matter rally in company with a friend, when she was stopped by two British Transport Police officers. Jessie-Lu Flynn is white and so I’ve no idea what they were playing at. (Relax, I’m still joking).
Anyhow, one of the police officers pointed out that the slogan on the T-shirt she was wearing could be considered offensive to some people.
Now the T-shirt had the two-word slogan ‘F*ck Boris’. Which I believe was meant to be an insult rather than one of the goals on her bucket list. I’ve abbreviated the word, because I’m not a sweary type, but have included the picture that appeared in the Guardian for the sake of clarity.
So anyway, one of the police officers pointed out a possible offence under the Public Order Act 1986.
I believe that the officer was referring to Section 5.1(b), which relates to someone who: “displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening or abusive, within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.”
Once this was pointed out to Jessie-Lu Flynn she replied: “I’ve worn it a dozen times before without being challenged by the police”
In my experience that’s quite an unusual defence. When I’ve arrested shoplifters it’s not very often they say “I come in here and steal cheese twice a week every week and no one’s ever complained before.” Neither have I been told “I always drive at excessive speeds when passing primary schools” nor “I’ve murdered loads of people before…” You get the idea!
Incidentally, if Boris Johnson does make wearing of masks in retail premises compulsory I bet all the shoplifters will be shouting a muffled “YIPPEEEEE!”
So anyway, back to Jessie-Lu Flynn and her allegedly ‘offensive’ T-shirt. The cop said “I think you should zip up your top to cover it up” and so she did.
All sorted then? Not quite…
Following the incident Flynn did what any upright citizen would do: Uploaded onto YouTube a video of the incident (shot on her friend’s mobile) to go viral. Followed by features in Unilad, Metro and the Daily Mail. The video shows the officer being very polite and patient. In fact he’s so helpful that he even looks up the specific offence on his mobile device and shows her the exact wording.
Flynn then decided to launch legal process against BTP arguing that the police actions interfered with her right to express her legitimate political opinions.
No one likes protracted political statements, and as a comedian I’m a fan of the editing process to help create incisive satire, but even I reckon that ‘F*CK BORIS’ it’s probably a smidgen lacking in content to be considered legitimate political opinion. In the same way that if the Guardian theatre critic stood up at the end of my performance and gave me the middle finger – I’d get an idea they wasn’t keen but probably wouldn’t class it as a legitimate review.
I’m no prude. I’ve lived through the 80’s which means I’ve seen more risqué Frankie Goes to Hollywood T-shirts than you can shake a stick at. But if my 95-year-old mother-in-law had walked past Jessie-Lu Flynn wearing the T-shirt in question I’m pretty certain that she would’ve found the swear word displayed to be abusive and it would have caused her some alarm and probably even distress. Regardless of the context, political or otherwise.
With that in mind, Flynn’s legal action struck me as a little over-the-top and all a bit daft to be honest. Perhaps like me, many of you were fully expected Paul Crowther the Chief Constable of BTP, to write a reply something on the lines of:
“Dear Ms Flynn,
Thank you for your correspondence. But you must be joking! It’s my job to uphold the law and help maintain some standards of public decency.
I believe that the officer concerned was very reasonably and sensible in his interpretation of the Public Order Act and was very polite and professional to you. Moreover, as a senior leader it is my responsibility to support my staff when they are acting appropriately and in accordance with their duty, especially so when they are currently under attack from a targeted, cynically motivated, negative media campaign and police morale is at an all-time low.
All things considered I’m backing my cops. I will not cave in to police-baiting and pedantic point scoring designed simply to discredit our organisation. I’ll fight this all the way and if needs be we’ll let the High Court decide on the legal ruling,
Have a nice day,
PS Please remember to dress sensibly, especially as it starts to get a bit cooler”.
That’s what we all expected right? Wrong! Instead, one of our fearless leaders reverted to what seems to rapidly becoming their default position and Jessie-Lu Flynn received a letter of apology on behalf of the Chief Constable of British Transport Police. Informing her that the instruction to cover her T-shirt, and the brief detention to give that direction, were unlawful.
His letter also apologised for any distress caused. Because clearly having someone say – “Do us a favour and zip up your top please” is very distressing to a hardened political activist…
I bet when Jessie-Lu got home her Mom asked: “Oh dear why are you so upset? Did those nasty, fascist cops kettle you in Parliament Square for 6 hours? Did the Met’s TSG riot police ram their plastic shields in your face? Did the mounted section carry out long-handled baton charges?”
“No, a BTP copper asked me to zip up my cardie.”
According to the Guardian article the letter from BTP also gives an undertaking that “the wearing of the T-shirt alone will not lead to her arrest or any direction to cover it”.
Looks like I’d better tell my 95-year-old mother-in-law to either man-up and stop being such an oversensitive wimp or stay in her house where she can’t come to any harm?
Now I have no doubt that Paul Crowther gave his written response some careful consideration. I’d expect that he liaised with BTP legal team and lawyers before sending that letter and my response to that is:
I DON’T CARE! Let the courts make the ruling not you.
Back up your staff when a complex rule of law arises in the middle of them trying to do a good job for you – don’t hang them out to dry. Don’t humiliate them. Don’t help set a precedent that’s just made every street cop’s job considerably more difficult. Don’t cave in and take the easy way out – be a Chief Constable and put up a bit of a fight. (This is me not joking now ).
“Yeah but Alfie what about the expenditure and the responsibility to the public purse?” Yeah well, what about the quickly fading motivation and morale of every hard-working police officer in this country?
Jessie-Lu Flynn welcomed the police apology and admission the police had acted unlawfully towards her. “I’m thrilled,” she said. “Now I can be confident that I can wear the T-shirt without fear of arrest.”
Jolly good then. I’d guess you’re going to be wearing it quite a lot now. I’m sure there’s thousands already on order. People can now point them towards every cop they see and don’t forget to film if you get any more ‘bites’.
Why don’t you pop into the local Woman’s Institute Meeting – the old dears might give you a round of applause? What about wearing it for church on Sunday and if the vicar objects you can tell him to “f*ck off” as long as you add the word Tory afterwards then he’s not lawfully allowed to be offended. And if he objects you can show him the letter of proof you have from Chief Constable Paul Crowther.
Flynn’s lawyers, Joanna Khan and Michael Oswald at Bhatt Murphy solicitors released this statement:
“This should serve as a strong reminder to police officers that the freedom to express political opinion, and to criticise politicians, is fundamental to a free and democratic society, and that invoking the criminal law to limit that freedom will be unacceptable and unlawful in all but the most extreme circumstances.”
Any perverts out there with a propensity for indecent exposure must be very excited by this news. Perhaps the next time they find themselves walking down a busy street, gripping their genitalia firmly in hand, as long as they remember to shout “Boris is a wanker” it will probably qualify as a political statement. I certainly know of a good firm of solicitors who may be able to assist if they have a run in with the rozzers.
Hopefully you’ve managed to read this blog quickly before I get a letter instructing me to take it down and apologise for its contents.
In fact I will finish with an apology. To the conscientious, proactive BTP officer who dealt with Jessie-Lu Flynn very courteously and professionally – I would like to say that I’m sorry about the lack of support you’ve received – it’s pretty sad my friend.
That’s all from me. I’m off to order my Mother-in-law a bespoke T-shirt. Let me know if you’ve any suggestions for the slogan?