Matthew Doyle’s arrest sets a dangerous precedent for us all

“I cannot understand why I was detained, my flat trashed, my passport seized and two PCs, two tablets, and my phone taken. I was denied a shave, a shower, food. I was stripped of my dignity to appear in court without looking like a dishevelled hobo which I am not.”

These are obviously the words of someone being arrested. You’re probably wondering what he got arrested for. There must have been such a threat to the life liberty and property of the public that such an approach was taken. Murder? Rape? Theft? Fraud?

No, it was because of a tweet by a man named Matthew Doyle, 46 from Croydon in London.

Last week we all witnessed the horror of two bombings in Belgian capital Brussels in which 30 were killed and over 100 were injured. Reports later began to emerge indicating that ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks. Matthew Doyle was tweeting about his experience soon afterwards in which he asked a Muslim woman in Croydon about the attacks. He tweeted “I confronted a Muslim woman yesterday in Croydon. I asked her to explain the Brussels. She replied “Nothing to do with me”. A mealy mouthed reply”. If this represented a problem: the online response seemed to deal with it: people ridiculed him, responded with parodies and made light out of what he did. It seemed like something which could have been a joke on Friday night comedy shows.

However events seemed to take a somewhat sinister turn. Matthew was then arrested on Wednesday under section 19 of the Public Order Act 1986 for “publishing or distributing written material which is threatening, abusive or insulting, likely or intended to stir up racial hatred” and had his private property searched rather over-zealously. On Friday however, it seemed that the police came to their senses and dropped the charges (although the Daily Mail reported that this was more because of pressure from the Crown Prosecution Service who later said the police didn’t have the legal powers to decide whether he should be charged or not).

Although the right thing happened in the end his arrest was wholly unjustified, heavy handed and demonstrates a chilling increase in the intrusion of State power in the regulation of speech and opinions. A move that everyone should be concerned about. Firstly Matthew wasn’t stirring up racial hatred, nor did he intend to do so, and it is doubtful that what he did was likely to. All he did was ask a question to which the woman gave a response. Islamist terrorist attacks can lead to aggression and violence inflicted against innocent Muslims but that didn’t happen this time (or if it did it was minute) we should celebrate that.

Secondly, the approach of the police was totally out of proportion. Not only did they arrest him they seized his passport, entered his home and confiscated his property. All of this intrusion, all of this force and coercion over a tweet. I have personally witnessed police responding to assaults and attacks by dogs with less concern than this. It certainly casts into doubt the idea that “need more resources” to keep us safe.

And what is most concerning of all is the effect this has on freedom of speech and State’s ability to intrude itself upon our lives. These days so many things are labelled as ‘racist’, ‘Islamaphobic’, ‘sexist’, ‘homophobic’ in order to stop people from expressing their opinions. When people spray these labels around it is as if it is a deliberate tactic to stop people saying what they were going to say. We’ve seen people from Germaine Greer, Maryam Nymaze and even human rights campaigners such as Peter Tatchell being ‘no-platformed’ at various universities because of their opinions, the idea of police officers stopping people from asking questions and using the powers of arrest if they don’t comply is on par with Saudi Arabia and North Korea.
However I suspect many people will agree with his arrest. I spoke to someone I used to go to university with. She said he should be arrested. I wonder if she thinks the string of Islamist hate preachers who have preached ‘hate’ should be arrested too? Other people may not agree with the arrest but simply just don’t care. They should care, because it could happen to them. Perhaps only then will they care when they are being carted off in a police car, their house searched and their property seized will they realise that no one is immune from such political correctness, such ‘police activism’, such assaults on their liberties.

For those of us who love liberty, specifically freedom of speech, we know that every restriction on our right to say what we want, every new law, every new regulation is one more restriction of our freedom.

We’re told so much by the politicians and the media and the defence and intelligence services that ISIS and various other terrorist groups want to destroy our freedoms and way of life. Many members of our society are doing a good job of it themselves.

3 Comments

  1. Agree, excellent posting.

    Except, if the worst thing Matthew Doyle ever does is to call an utterance “mealy-mouthed,” he’ll be a shoo-in on arrival at the Pearly Gates.

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  2. Freedom of Speech is indeed being thrown under the bus – but this started long ago (the 1965 Act for example). We live in a country without a First Amendment just as much as it has no Second Amendment. Indeed many self described “libertarians” in Britain do not even believe in the philosophy upon which the Bill of Rights (British as well as American) is based.

    They (this sort of British “libertarian”) do not believe that humans are moral agents (that we have Free Will) who can choose (really choose) to do other than we do. And they do believe that there is objective moral right and wrong (natural law) that human beings (Free Will agents) can know what is right – and choose to do what it morally right.

    So yes Britain is in trouble – with the freedom of people (Free Will agents) increasingly violated – but then so is British Classical Liberalism and libertarianism, as since at least the early 19th century its philosophical foundations (the objective and universal nature of basic moral right and wrong – regardless of “historical stage”, or “race” or “class” or geography, and our ability to be moral agents – to really choose to do other than we do), have been undermined – by people calling themselves Classical Liberals or libertarians.

    The philosophical collapse (for example the Old Whigs despised the determinist defender of tyranny Thomas Hobbes – many of the new “liberals” presented Hobbes as great thinker to be admired….) came before the political collapse (the collapse of freedom that we see all round us) and was the cause of it.

    Only by recovering libertarian philosophy can we return to the libertarian politics of the Old Whigs.

    America is also seeing the decline of freedom – such things as the Bill of Rights (the First Amendment and so on) can not stand if the Free Will (moral agency) philosophy upon which they are based is undermined.

    One can not have the politics of (for example) Roger Williams (the Founder of Rhode Island, who opposed slavery, supported religious toleration, and supported private property rights – including for indians) if one rejects the natural law (natural justice – as opposed to “justice” being whatever the ruler says it is, as with the defender of tyranny Thomas Hobbes) legal philosophy of such men as Chief Justice Sir Edward Coke and Chief Sir John Holt, and the libertarian (moral agency – Free Will) philosophy of such people as Ralph Cudworth and his daughter Lady Damars Cudworth Marsham. (think Daenerys Targaryen – but, alas, without the dragons).

    Roger Williams was a student of Sir Edward Coke and the chaplain in the household of Sir William Marsham.

    Cut off libertarian politics from its Old Whig roots – and such things as Freedom of Speech eventually die.

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  3. I should have pointed out that John Locke was a close friend of both Lord and Lady Marsham – not just personally, but also politically.

    The idea that two strangers (from different cultures) meeting in the wilderness (with no government ) have a moral obligation (under natural justice) not to aggress against each other (to respect the freedom of the other) is central to the Old Whig position – as much in John Locke as in Ralph Cudworth or Chief Justices Sir Edward Coke or Sir John Holt.

    This is not a matter of prudential calculation (“I will not attack him now – I will wait till he is asleep, and then kill and eat him”) it is a matter of universal (and objective) moral law.

    That is what protects Matthew Doyle – but our Hobbesian state does NOT recognise this. And the problem goes back (at least) to the Victorians. To people such as Maitland who divorced the law from basic moral principles – holding, instead, that the state (Parliament) could do anything it likes for what it thinks is for the “general good”.

    Of course things could be worse.

    Putin’s Russia is worse – I am just watching Mr Putin’s “RT” television station where a traitor American is saying how peaceful life is in Damascus – (yes Syria the peaceful – the lies are that extreme) unlike evil America where “everyone has a gun” and no school or cinema is safe – in noble Gun Control Syria (and noble Gun Control Russia) all is peaceful because the state has the guns.

    Lies this extreme (actually both Syria and Russia have a vastly higher murder rate than the United States) delivered by some white haired gentleman with a gentle voice (I know the type – they are very gentle in every way, till the moment they cut your throat for their KGB masters) are not yet part of British life – but they could be.

    No First Amendment, no Second Amendment, anything (anything at all) acceptable of it is for the “general good” – that could happen here, and it could happen in the United States also.

    Already the President of the United States thinks he can legislate by edict (in defiance of both Congress and the Constitution) – it whatever part of Hell Thomas Hobbes is presently burning, he may well be smiling.

    It is later than many people think. For Freedom of Speech – and everything else.

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