• Cllr Anthony Stevens arrested & held in custody for 9 hours over tweet defending Cllr Lawal’s free speech
• Arrest was for suspicion of stirring up racial hatred & distributing written material to do so
• Cllr Stevens receiving support from Christian Legal Centre & planning to make complaint to IOPC
Northamptonshire Councillor Anthony Stevens was arrested and held in custody for nine hours by local police for retweeting a link to a petition in defence of another local Councillor, King Lawal, who was “cancelled” for expressing his Christian beliefs related to LGBT issues. Cllr Lawal had written, “When did pride become a thing to celebrate. Because of pride, Satan fell as an archangel. Pride is not a virtue but a sin. Those who have pride should repent of their sins and return to Jesus Christ. He can save you.”
Cllr Stevens was arrested under Section 19 of the Public Order Act 1986 for distributing written material to stir up racial hatred. He was released on bail and is now receiving support from the Christian Legal Centre. Cllr Stevens claims that he was arrested simply for defending the right to free speech and for supporting the only black councillor in Northamptonshire.
Lord Macdonald, former director of public prosecutions, said that it is essential that police officers are trained in the importance of free speech rights and the strong protection that the law gives to political speech. Toby Young, director of the Free Speech Union, said that Northamptonshire police made a serious mistake in this case and that Cllr Stevens should never have been arrested.
Overall, this incident is another example of the police’s overreaching in punishing those who defend free speech and highlights the importance of proper free speech training for police officers.
A Conservative councillor called Anthony Stevens was arrested and held in custody for nine hours by Northamptonshire police because he tweeted a link to a petition defending King Lawal, a fellow Northamptonshire councillor, who has been “cancelled” for expressing his Christian beliefs in relation to LGBT issues. The Telegraph’s Louisa Clarence-Smith has more.
Cllr Lawal, 31, who is the only black councillor in Northamptonshire, was suspended by his local Conservative group in July, after he responded to images of Pride parades organised by LGBT groups, writing: “When did pride become a thing to celebrate. Because of pride, Satan fell as an archangel. Pride is not a virtue but a sin. Those who have pride should repent of their sins and return to Jesus Christ. He can save you.”
In July, Cllr Stevens retweeted a petition calling for Cllr Lawal’s Conservative positions to be reinstated, writing: “If you value free speech please sign and share.”
He said that police officers showed him his tweets regarding Cllr Lawal and asked him why he supported the petition. Cllr Stevens said he stated that he is a “free speech absolutist” and that even if he does not agree with someone, he believes in their right to express their beliefs.
He was then asked if he agreed with Cllr Lawal’s original tweet that pride is a sin, including LGBT events, according to Cllr Stevens. He said he replied by saying that “it did not matter whether he agreed with what he said or not, he believed he had the right to say it without having his life torn apart”.
Another tweet of interest to the police, shared by Cllr Stevens on his account, involved a video of a man burning a copy of the Koran. Cllr Stevens said his post reflected his view that he agreed that choosing to burn a copy of the Koran was part of someone’s “right to free speech in a free society”.
Cllr Stevens said he understood that he had been reported to the police by a local Labour Party member.
He was told he was under arrest for a public order offence under section 19 of the Public Order Act 1986. The police said he was suspected of distributing written material to stir up racial hatred. He has been released on bail.
He is receiving support from the Christian Legal Centre and is planning to make a complaint to the Independent Office for Police Conduct.
He said: “It is appalling and bizarre to be brutally arrested for sharing a petition in defending the right to free speech of a fellow councillor.
“The accusation of racial hatred is ridiculous and insulting. My only crime has been supporting the only black local councillor in Northamptonshire.”
He added: “Defending free speech is not the same thing as agreeing with what has been said, or admiring who is saying this.
“In a true democratic society, you cannot have people being arrested for a few tweets. We must have debate, we must have the freedom to criticise and offend each other, otherwise this country is going to swiftly go to pot.
“I was shocked when the police turned up at my house unannounced and came onto my property.
“Frankly, it was frightening, and no doubt intended to be so. I was then arrested and humiliated in front of my wife and children. Even if the police had legitimate questions to ask me (which I am yet to hear), there was no need to ambush me in my own house, arrest me, search me, keep me in the cell for the whole day, interrogate me or confiscate my phone.
“If elected members cannot share their beliefs or support each other in their right to share their beliefs without losing our jobs and being arrested, then we are in a very dark place.”
Lord Macdonald, former director of public prosecutions, said: “It is essential that police officers are properly trained in the importance of free speech rights and the particularly strong protection that the law gives to political speech.
“Some cases reveal an alarming ignorance and are bound to chill public participation in democratic debate. Causing offence is not, and never should be, a crime. If it becomes so, we will lose something precious treasured by generations of Britons.”
Toby Young, director of the Free Speech Union, said: “Northamptonshire police have made a serious mistake in this case. Defending free speech isn’t a crime and Cllr Stevens should never have been arrested, let alone held in custody for nine hours. This episode highlights the need for the police to receive proper free speech training.”