Mealy mouthed

The intemperate Matthew Doyle of Croydon, a man who clearly thinks that the link between Islam and Islamism is more direct and universal than many intelligent people are prepared to accept, reported on his own activism on the matter via Twitter on Wednesday. This is what it said:

I confronted a Muslim woman yesterday in Croydon. I asked her to explain Brussels. She said ‘Nothing to do with me’. A mealy mouthed reply.

I’m not sure we know whether the incident concerned actually happened. I’d like to believe so, not because I wish any distress to the lady concerned, nor to any other muslim[1], but because the whole incident, as described, strikes me as rather comic. What form of words or body language did the confrontation take? Did he say ‘Excuse me, I think you’re a muslim – looks like it, you seem to be wearing a headscarf, and that’s usually a giveaway – I was wondering whether you could throw any light on this whole Brussels caper. What’s that all about, eh?’ Or did he block her path and say ‘Wait a minute love – your kind aren’t going anywhere without telling me what you’re all up to with your bombings and stuff.’ Or did he literally stand in front of her and say ‘Oi, you! Brussels. Explain. Now.’

It can’t have been any of the scarier options, can it? If her response was ‘Nothing to do with me,’ one’s assuming that she correctly identified Mr Doyle as a bit of a prat who ought to try to find better things to do with his time, and on the spectrum of irritation that I assume urban Muslims have to tolerate these days, it would be on the mild side.

He did, however, choose to go public on the matter, and give his withering – one might even go so far as to say searing – indictment of her response: ‘A mealy mouthed reply.’ This is such an absurd and slightly outmoded phrase that there will be a fair few denizens of the Twittersphere who really have no clue what it means. According to Collins online, it means ‘hesitant or afraid to speak plainly; not outspoken’. I don’t know if Mr Doyle realised this, but there doesn’t seem much about ‘Nothing to do with me,’ that is any of those things. In fact, I am surprised that, confronted by a stranger demanding her to account for the actions of her wilder co-religionists, she didn’t either run away, call for help, or frankly, kick him in the balls in self-defence, anticipating a physical attack.

Quite rightly, the mockery from Twitter was merciless, some of the parodies passing for what puts the ‘wit’ in Twitter:

I confronted an Irish women yesterday in Camden. I asked her to explain Bono. She said ‘Nothing to do with me’. A mealy mouthed reply.

I confronted a woman in Croydon and asked her to explain shredless marmalade. ‘Nothing to do with me’. A peely-mouthed reply.

There, in a saner world, the matter might have rested. However, Doyle has now been arrested for ‘inciting religious hatred’ and will appear before magistrates on Monday. Given that, to me, fairly shocking fact, I have no idea whether the same fate may befall me. Is ‘criticising the decision to prosecute someone for inciting racial hatred on the grounds that it is quite hard to see in what sense what they were saying was actually doing that’ also a hate crime? I suppose I’ll find out.

I have beside me a copy of Blackstone’s Criminal Practice. Let’s see what it says. The offence seems to be contained in s29B(1) of the Public Order Act 1986, and arises when someone ‘uses threatening words or behaviour…displays written material which is threatening…[and] intends thereby to stir up religious hatred…’ Apparently, prosecutions may not be brought without the consent of the Attorney General, so I’m assuming Jeremy Wright has read this bit and thinks it has a chance of succeeding. Not his job to pre-judge the outcome, of course, and it will be in the public interest to prosecute crimes even where there are serious evidential problems. Here there aren’t likely to be any, but presumably he must at least ask whether there is, on the face of it, a case to answer.

Blackstone’s provides further guidance: A MOJ circular from 2010 states ‘the offences are limited to threatening … material which is intended to stir up hatred. Subject to those conditions, they do not prevent the telling of jokes or the preaching of religious doctrine. Hatred is a very strong emotion. Conduct or material which only stirs up ridicule or dislike, or which simply causes offence, would not meet that threshold.’

It is an either way offence, which means that it can be tried in the magistrates or in the Crown Court. If Doyle pleads not guilty and elects trial by Jury, he would in theory face a maximum sentence of seven years’ imprisonment, rather more than that recently handed down to Adam Johnson for his abuse of a 15 year old girl. (It is, of course, highly unlikely that his case would deserve the maximum, however.)

I confronted a Muslim woman yesterday in Croydon. I asked her to explain Brussels. She said ‘Nothing to do with me’. A mealy mouthed reply.

It is not clear to me whether Doyle is being prosecuted for the confrontation itself, or for the tweet. I’m assuming the latter, because legal rules being what they are, particularly with regard to hearsay, proving that the event actually happened is going to be tricky.

In that case, I don’t know why my repeating the tweet here is not also an infringement, but all the papers are doing so, and I’m hoping that isn’t due to some loophole which doesn’t also apply to me.

First of all, is it threatening? Does it threaten a person, still less a class of people to whom they belong, to express the opinion that their reply to your question is ‘hesitant or afraid to speak plainly,’ especially when that opinion is self-evidently wrong. She could scarcely have been more direct without telling him to fuck off. ‘Nothing to do with me’? Mealy-mouthed? No. And no one else thinks so but you.

But all right, let’s allow that it is threatening, for the sake of considering the second limb of the offence, on which the MOJ circular is so particular. Did Doyle, by publishing the tweet, intend to stir up religious hatred? I guess here he might be on shakier ground. The idiocy of the tweet might indeed point at someone who is keen to bring muslims down, certainly hints that he himself thinks that there is some sense in which they are all in it together, and that a muslim is by definition linked to terrorism. He might indeed have intended to encourage other people to share that opinion. Is that hatred, though? The circular specifically excludes ‘material which only stirs up …dislike.’ In fact, it seems badly worded here. Surely it means ‘material where the defendant only intends to stir up dislike’ since for that part of the offence, it is the intention that matters, not the actual effect. My own feeling is that even the dullest witted potential groomee for the EDL could scarcely be stirred to anything beyond eye-rolling by the Doyle tirade.

So if he intended to stir up hatred with it, he sure sucks at it.

 

 

[1] Well, other than ones actively involved in Daesh. I do wish them distress. I don’t know whether that counts as a hate crime or not. I suppose I’ll find out, if this goes viral.

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Mealy mouthed – post script

In case you missed it, Matthew Doyle did not actually appear in the magistrates’ court (was supposed to be Saturday, not Monday, as I said) to face charges at all. That’s because the police didn’t have the power to arrest him for it. If they’d only consulted my piece on the matter last week, they’d have been saved the embarrassment of having been told so by the Crown Prosecution Service. I assumed that the fact that charges were being pressed meant that the Attorney General had been consulted as he must be in any such prosecution, even though I expressed my doubts over whether he would have regarded the case to be sufficiently strong one. But no, the Metropolitan Police force apparently does not know that it isn’t allowed to arrest and hold people for this offence, and now faces a lawsuit from Mr Doyle, who is unsurprisingly aggrieved to be told that the police raid on his flat, their seizure of his electronic equipment and his passport, his detention and charge were all without basis in law – which is exactly as it should be, in my view. If they want my further legal advice, they’d we well advised to settle with Mr Doyle, as they don’t have a leg to stand on.

My attention has been drawn, however to the fact that he was going to be charged under s19 of the POA 1984, not s29 as I suggested in my piece above. I’m intrigued by this.s29 is for inciting religious hatred. s19 is for racial hatred, defined in s17 as ‘hatred against a group of persons defined by reference to colour, race, nationality (including citizenship) or ethnic or national origins.’ ‘Muslim’ doesn’t quite seem to meet this definition, though I notice that Lord Fraser of Tullybelton held that Sikhs were an ethnic group in Mandla v Dowell Lee [1983]. Is this the reason for the decision to (try to) to charge under s19 instead of s29, or should we put it down to more of the same clueless incompetence that brought about the mistake in the first place? (Is insulting the police a hate crime?)

 

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