Brendan O’Neill Brendan O’Neill

Making a sick joke about Grenfell doesn’t merit a jail sentence

(Getty images)

So in Britain in 2022, you can get a jail sentence for making an offensive joke. Yesterday a man was handed a 10-week prison sentence – suspended – for engaging in an act of crude humour. This should give rise to some serious national self-reflection. A free, civilised country does not hand out jail time for jokes. What has happened to us?

The man in question is Paul Bussetti from Croydon. He’s the guy who shared a video of something horrible that happened at a bonfire party in November 2018. Someone put a cardboard model of Grenfell Tower on top of the fire. The model had the faces of residents painted in the windows. In the video Bussetti can be heard saying, ‘That’s what happens when you don’t pay the rent’. Another partygoer says: ‘Who’s jumping?’ They all laugh.

This was a year after the Grenfell disaster in which 72 people died. The vast majority of us will think it deeply immoral to make fun of such a calamity. We will wonder how Bussetti and his chums could get a comedic kick from this horror. But the idea that sick humour should be an offence, punishable with a jail sentence? To me, that is far more offensive than anything said and done by those bonfire oafs in 2018.

It was a disgusting joke, yes. But then, many jokes are

Bussetti pleaded guilty to sending a ‘grossly offensive’ message after he shared a video of the bonfire in two WhatsApp groups. Sensibly, he was found not guilty at Westminster magistrates’ court in 2019, but the High Court quashed his acquittal and he was forced to stand trial again. Yesterday he was handed his 10-week prison sentence, suspended for two years. So if he ends up in hot water in the next two years, he could find himself in a cell – for, let’s remind ourselves, making and sharing a joke.

It was a disgusting joke, yes.

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