With 120,000 incidents logged in five years, this obsession with hate crime makes me despair of the police force I was proud to serve, writes ex-policeman HARRY MILLER
Pictured: Harry Miller, an ex-policeman and a free speech campaigner
Anyone who has called the police to report the sort of low-level crime that blights daily life will know how hard it is to get more than a token response.
Police forces across the UK no longer even pretend to be interested in vandalism, burglaries, fly-tipping or drug dealing by teenagers in parks.
From depressing experience, many people know that, unless they need a police crime number for an insurance claim, it’s hardly worth making a report. Nothing will be done.
But as research this month reveals, there is one certain way to stir the police into action: report a fellow citizen for saying something, or making some comment on social media, that constitutes an ‘incident’ — or a Non Crime Hate Incident (NCHI).
In the past five years, it’s now been revealed, 120,000 NCHIs have been recorded — and not one of them has been the subject of a proper probe. After all, by its nature, it is not a crime.
Even though it’s been recorded, it doesn’t have to be true. It may be malicious, or ridiculous . . . such as the NCHI recorded against a man in Bedfordshire who facetiously whistled the theme tune from Bob The Builder at his neighbour.
However insignificant it is, the complaint will be held on the citizen’s police file for six years.
Its existence may be disclosed, for example, in an application for a visa or for a job requiring what is known as an extended disclosure and barring service (DBS) check, such as a post working with children.
Police actively seek out incidents with any perceived element of ‘hostility or prejudice based on a person’s race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or transgender status’.
Sometimes these are farcical. One swimming teacher in West Yorkshire was reported after a child accidentally banged his head on the side of the pool — the lad’s mother claimed this was allowed to happen ‘due to his ethnicity’.
More than 120,000 NCHIs have been recorded in the last five years including against a man in Bedfordshire who facetiously whistled the theme from Bob The Builder (pictured) at neighbour
In Norfolk, a Portuguese man reported a hate incident directed against him after he found a half-eaten burger bun on his driveway.
And when a gay man told police that his cocaine dealer had cheated him, the incident was recorded as homophobic abuse . . . not a drugs offence.
It ought to go without saying that I deplore genuine hate crimes. Racism, such as the vile abuse aimed at three black England footballers last week after the team lost the Euro 2020 final on penalties, should be confronted and stopped wherever it occurs.
But NCHI reports do nothing to stop real racism and other hate crimes. The purpose of these arbitrary warnings is to discourage people from saying anything, in real life or through the internet, that may be perceived as inflammatory, offensive or provocative.
Police refer to this as the ‘chilling effect’. Its proponents, the College of Policing, believe it has the effect of lowering the temperature of social discourse, of cooling down disputes and discussions.
But the term is frighteningly apt because the real effect is to freeze people in their tracks, and send a cold shiver of fear down their spines.
Police recorded an NCHI after a Portuguese man said a half-eaten burger was left on his drive
The College of Policing argues non-crime hate incidents can be the pre-cursor for more serious crime, including violence and murder, but critics say the policy has gone too far
In the 1980s and 1990s, as a bobby on Humberside before I left to start my own business, I was proud to be a policeman. I felt the people I served trusted me and respected my uniform.
Public attitudes are different today — and that’s dangerous. The general expectation that our police are here to help us is fading.
Partly, that’s because of ill-judged decisions such as the Met’s reaction to the appalling murder of Sarah Everard by a serving officer.
When hundreds of women joined a vigil, pleading for the streets to be safer, police forcefully broke up their peaceful demonstration.
It’s also due to high-profile failures to provide basic policing. The chaos at Wembley that humiliated England, when hundreds of yobs rushed the turnstiles at the Euro 2020 final, could have been prevented by an adequate police presence.
In some parts of the country, possession of drugs appears to have been effectively decriminalised.
Chief constables ignore a crime that leaves many people feeling unsafe in their own neighbourhoods.
And theft now appears to be beneath the notice of police. Last week, TV presenter Giles Coren made headlines when he complained police had done nothing when his £60,000 Jaguar was stolen for the second time from outside his home. (The Met did later swing into action, but only after the Daily Mail publicised the theft.)
I joked to a friend that had Giles identified as ‘non-binary’, a police helicopter might have been on the scene within minutes to investigate the ‘hate crime’ against him.
Of course, I’m not supposed to make off-colour jokes like that. In fact, I have been specifically warned against it and there is a Non Hate Crime Incident on my own police record.
The first I knew of it was a phone call from the managing director of the machinery business I run outside Grimsby, in 2019. A police officer in plain clothes had turned up, asking to talk to me.
Naturally, my staff assumed it was serious. Plain clothes men are usually CID, and don’t come to discuss parking offences.
I called the officer, PC Gul, immediately — and was staggered to be told he was responding to comments I had made on Twitter.
A complaint had been aimed against me, raising concerns that transgender employees at my firm were unsafe. This allegation had not come from anyone local, he added.
Mr Miller is the founder of Fair Cop, a group which challenges police interference in speech. The 54-year-old is pictured holding a ‘We love free speech’ banner outside the High Court
I was glad to hear that, at least. We have more than 80 employees, and there has never been any complaint about any sort of discrimination. I’d be horrified to think any of my workers didn’t feel safe.
Nevertheless, I was being lectured by a police officer on the sort of jokes and one-liners I fired off via Twitter.
These included a tongue-in-cheek question about Caitlyn Jenner’s Olympic gold medal . . . which the transgender former athlete won in the Men’s Decathlon in 1976.
I was not ‘trolling’ anyone. These remarks were not aimed at any individual and were not meant to intimidate.
I was simply joining in a debate, exercising a perfectly legal right to express my views.
I asked if any of my tweets were criminal. PC Gul assured me they were not. ‘So why are you ringing me?’ I said.
‘I need to check your thinking,’ he said.
No wonder they call it the chilling effect. My blood runs cold at the implication of those words.
If Britain has become a country where police are allowed to decide what we may and may not think, let alone say, everybody’s liberty is in jeopardy.
A High Court judge was equally aghast. After I took Humberside Police to the Royal Courts of Justice last year, Mr Justice Julian Knowles ruled police had unlawfully interfered with my right to freedom of expression, and they did so as they were siding against my political opinions.
‘In this country,’ he added, ‘we have never had a Cheka, a Gestapo or a Stasi’ — a reference to the secret police of Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, and East Germany during the Cold War. ‘We have never lived in an Orwellian society.’
But we will, if this fetishisation of ‘hate’ continues unchecked. Under NCHI guidance, police can go into schools and issue warnings to children.
The array of supposed hate crimes is constantly expanding. Even black-clad Goths can be the victims of hate speech, according to a recent ruling — which implies any criticism of fashion is prohibited.
It’s nonsense. But every police force in the country now subscribes to it.
Meanwhile, real crimes are being treated as unimportant. It’s enough to make this ex-copper despair. What has happened to policing in this country?
n Harry Miller is a campaigner who helped set up the free speech pressure group, Fair Cop