British Man Jailed for Wearing Offensive T-Shirt

by Charles C. W. Cooke

In the Telegraph today, Tom Chivers documents British Free Speech Outrage #34986:

This is getting ridiculous. Following the man jailed for tweeting something disgusting about Fabrice Muamba, then the boy jailed for putting something disgusting on Facebook about April Jones (and the man almost jailed for joking about blowing up Robin Hood Airport), now a man has been jailed for wearing a T-shirt with a disgusting joke about killing policemen.

Barry Thew has been jailed for four months, plus another four for breaching an earlier suspended sentence, after he was arrested by Greater Manchester Police while wearing a T-shirt saying “One less pig; perfect justice” and “killacopforfun.com hahaaa”. That would be bad enough, but he chose to do it on the day that two police officers, Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes, were killed in a gun and grenade attack elsewhere in the Greater Manchester area.

It shouldn’t need saying, but perhaps it does: that’s a despicable thing to do. Mr Thew is clearly a deeply, deeply unpleasant individual (or perhaps disturbed: apparently he is on a prescription for antipsychotics and has been an inpatient at a mental hospital). But we don’t lock people up for being unpleasant.

I have rehearsed the panoply of arguments against a putatively free country jailing its citizens simply for being obnoxious time and time again on this site, so I shall spare readers the repetition in this case. But I will say this: It is becoming increasingly obvious that the primary effect of censorship is to impress decent people into the defense of the accused, prompting those who value liberty to discuss the importance of free speech when they would otherwise be happily condemning those who employ theirs for ill. Is the British state really so insecure that it considers that Mr. Thew’s appalling glorification of the murder of female police officers will not be universally regarded as a disgrace unless it sends him to prison? If so, the country has bigger problems than one man and his regrettable sartorial choice.

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