Any gunslinging sheriff can tell you that if you shoot from the hip you may hit the target but not quite with the precision you wanted. Priti Patel, very much a minister to draw first and ask questions later, is in much this position with her challenge to the police establishment over the weekend on its policy of recording all non-crime hate incidents. Most of what she said is spot-on; but in two respects she may have to think a little more carefully.
The problem with the present police policy, as Matthew Parris trenchantly pointed out in this week’s Spectator, is that even if you never break the law it makes being rude to anyone on social media a risky business. If the victim or anyone else chooses to file a complaint accusing you of a hate crime, you will probably end up with a police record; and this is still true even if the complaint is footling or misguided, or there is not even a hint of criminality in fact. It is all down to the now-notorious semi-official guidance issued by the College of Policing and accepted by all forces:
‘Where it is established that a criminal offence has not taken place, but the victim or any other person perceives that the incident was motivated wholly or partially by hostility, it should be recorded and flagged as a non-crime hate incident.’
Following a concerted campaign from, among others, Fair Cop and the Free Speech Union, Priti Patel on Saturday let it be known that in her view this would not do. She would be pressing the College to revise its guidance and drop the official recording of any incident that did not in fact amount to an offence.