Investigate crime, not hurt feelings, officers told, as Priti Patel overrules police guidance

Police advice on non-crime hate incidents is to be overruled by Priti Patel, who believes forces should not investigate “hurt feelings”.

The Home Secretary has intervened to change the law and make police subject to a new code of practice to protect the right of people to speak out on contentious subjects such as transgender issues without facing the risk of criminal investigation.

The proposed new code, replacing current police guidance, follows the case of Harry Miller, a former police officer, who successfully challenged Humberside Police after the force recorded a non-crime hate incident against him for allegedly sharing a “transphobic” limerick on Twitter.

On Monday, the Court of Appeal ruled that the way police handled his case was “plainly an interference with free speech”.

The new code – enacted by an amendment to the Government’s Policing Bill – will align with the Court of Appeal judgment, which said the current guidance disproportionately interfered with freedom of expression and was having a “chilling effect on public debate”.

A government source said: “We want officers to focus on policing actual crime, not hurt feelings.”

On Monday, the court of appeal ruled that the way the police handled Mr Miller’s case was ‘plainly an interference with free speech’

Credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Ms Patel said: “The police will always have my backing to fully investigate hate crimes, but they must do so whilst protecting the fundamental right of freedom of expression. Some current practices are having a dangerous impact on free speech and potentially stopping people expressing their views.

“This amendment will ensure every police officer abides by a code of practice, approved by Parliament, when recording such allegations.”

The Home Secretary is writing to the College of Policing and the National Police Chiefs’ Council this week to set out the Government’s position.

A Home Office source said it would work “very closely” with both organisations to draft the code, to ensure it did not inhibit police operations.

Ministers are concerned that police recording non-crime hate incidents is jeopardising the job prospects of people whose comments may be offensive but not abusive.

Introduced by the College of Policing in 2014, a non-crime hate incident is defined as an act “perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice”.

The Telegraph revealed that 120,000 non-crime hate incidents have been recorded by forces across England and Wales between 2014 and 2019, including against children.

Despite police accepting that such incidents are not crimes, they are still logged on a system and can show up during an enhanced DBS background check when people are applying for certain jobs, such as a teacher.

The Court of Appeal found that the net for non-crime hate speech is “exceptionally wide” and that forces do not have the resources to police every single one.

The judges also highlighted that there is nothing to address “irrational complaints” to police “where there is no evidence of hostility”.

Mr Miller, who describes himself as “gender critical”, was visited at work by an officer from Humberside Police in January 2019 after a member of the public complained about his tweet.

He took his case to the High Court, arguing that the practice of recording non-crime hate incidents infringed his freedom of speech.

In February last year, Mr Justice Julian Knowles, the High Court judge, ruled in his favour, saying the right to hold opinions ranging from the inoffensive to “the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative” was a “cardinal democratic freedom”.

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