Last week a video went viral of West Yorkshire Police arresting a 16 year-old autistic girl for comparing a WPC to her “lesbian nana”. After widespread derision on social media, the constabulary later issued a statement saying the girl had been arrested “on suspicion of a homophobic public order offence”. Harry Miller, ex-policeman and founder of Fair Cop, tweeted: “This was a home invasion by an organised crime gang called West Yorkshire Police.” I had a nasty experience of my own on Saturday August 12th – not so traumatising, but nonetheless disturbing.
The incident occurred at a busy junction in Bexhill-on-Sea, where the ‘No to Northeye’ campaign has brought the community together in opposition to the Home Office’s plan to open a huge camp for 1,200 illegal migrants. But while the public overwhelmingly supports us, the authorities are not on our side. On Saturday, we experienced an unpleasant attitude from the two police officers present.
This was in stark contrast to previous rallies. We have praised officers for their good-natured and efficient policing, including stopping traffic as we marched through town. But on this occasion there was a group of about 15 counter-protestors, standing behind railings across from the roundabout we were on, waving insulting placards such as “Bexhill against racism” and “Don’t be racist dicks”. They appeared to be given more favourable treatment than us by the police.
I was standing with a placard, chatting to fellow members of our group, and facing away from the counter-protestors. We were receiving enthusiastic support from motorists, with a cacophony of horns (few tooted for the rival group). Three of the counter-protestors came over to the roundabout to engage with people on our side. Reasoned dialogue, however, is impossible with woke zealots. When I heard one of our ladies getting cross, I asked the two officers standing by why these counter-protestors were being allowed to cause aggravation.
The older officer took umbrage at me telling him how to do his job, although I had not been rude in any way. Ominously, he said: “I want a word with you afterwards.” I asked what it was about, and he pointed at my placard. This was homemade by a female member (it shouldn’t be relevant, but she is of Asian ethnicity), saying “Women’s Safety”. Quite a reasonable message, I felt, given the concerns of my wife and daughters. I was told that a woman passing by had complained that this was “offensive”.
When I asked the officer how the message of women’s safety could be construed as offensive, he explained that it suggests that all migrants are rapists. On asking whether I should put the placard down, I was told, “It’s your call.” But either the placard is lawful or not, I said. The officer replied that it was not him that found it offensive, but a member of the public. However, if he didn’t believe any law was being broken, why was he pursuing this?
I pointed to the “Don’t be racist dicks” banner across the road and asked why the officers did not see that as a problem. Nobody had complained, he said. So I said that I found it offensive. he didn’t like that.
Then more counter-protestors came over. I again suggested that the officers should keep the groups apart. Angrily, the older officer asked: “Under what law do you think I can tell these people not to stand in a public space?” With emphasis, he turned his body camera on. I calmly stated that I wasn’t suggesting they were breaking the law, but it would be sensible of the officers to simply keep the peace. I then returned to my place by the roadside. Illogically, the officer had raised the issue of my banner, even though it wasn’t illegal, but refused to do anything to stop the rival protestors harassing us because it wasn’t against the law.
Moments later, the lady who had made the placard relieved me of it, saying, “Let me hold this instead of you.” She warned me that she had overheard the officers talking about arresting me. What? I had not come anywhere near to committing a crime. But I understood the situation. I was being targeted, possibly because I had spoken at previous rallies and played a prominent role in the campaign. I was not willing to succumb to a ‘show arrest’.
In this atmosphere of intimidation, aware that the officers were watching me, I opted to leave. I later heard that the women’s safety placard was boldly on show after my departure, its inscriber bellowing out the message, unhindered. A heavy rain shower had chased the counter-protestors off in their minibus, with the police officers reverting to their usual friendlier attitude afterwards.
It seems to me that this was politicised policing with an ‘on’ and ‘off’ switch. But whatever the motive or orders, I’d say to the officers involved, if you think women’s safety is offensive, you’re in the wrong job.
Dr. Niall McCrae is a registered nurse who was on the editorial board member of Journal of Advanced Nursing.