I couldn’t quite believe it when first I read the newspaper subscriber’s letter. Columnists for the Times and Spectator do still get real letters, and this one from (shall we say?) Mr Jones had enclosed the copy of a letter he had written to a lady whom we shall call Mrs Smith. Mr Jones had read about the public protest she was leading last year against an Emmerdale episode in which a couple, after much agonising, choose to abort their Down’s syndrome baby.
Mrs Smith has a Down’s syndrome child, whom she adores. Mr Jones’s letter to her defended the broadcaster’s right to show parents who make a different choice. He believed the reasoning of such parents should at least be heard. He pointed out to Mrs Smith that the episode also included a happy couple who rejoiced in their Down’s syndrome son.
Although he went on to say he understood and respected those who keep their Down’s children, Mr Jones began his letter to Mrs Smith indignantly. I express here no view at all on the issue itself so I shall quote only the following sentence, the crux of what I want to discuss: ‘You disgracefully suggest that the reason for the inclusion of this situation in the script is a deliberate attempt to perpetuate prejudice against Down’s syndrome children.’
Mr Jones’s letter gave his name and address. Two weeks later he got a call from a Thames Valley police officer, informing him that Mrs Smith had reported him for a ‘hate crime’. The officer added that the police did not agree and that no further action was being taken, but they were obliged to tell him that a police record must now be opened on him, and his ‘involvement’ in a ‘hate incident’ entered upon on it.