You’re at home, enjoying a summery Saturday afternoon with the bees and nasturtiums on the patio, when the doorbell intrudes. You’re greeted by an impeccably courteous, fresh-faced police officer from the Norfolk Constabulary – ‘Dedicated to this neighbourhood’, according to their website – and he’s come to speak to you because there’s been a complaint.
Not, you understand, about the troubling number of burglaries, rising car thefts, incidences of property vandalism or madhouse music accompanying balmy barbeques. No, someone has reported you for sending them two gospel tracts by email, one entitled ‘Christ Can Cure – Good News for Gays’; and the other ‘Jesus Christ – the Saviour we all need’. Some people might have simply deleted them both and directed all further correspondence from you to ‘spam’, but these people got offended. Very offended. The allegation against you is that of ‘homophobic hate’.
The officer politely offers you a choice: you can either admit your guilt there and then, accepting an on-the-spot fine of £90. Or you can contest the allegation, provide a signed statement in your defence, after which it will be for a senior police officer to decide whether or not to refer your case to the Crown Prosecution Service.
It is not clear at this stage upon what basis the police have judged the tracts to be ‘homophobic’. But it is made crystal clear that you may have committed a homophobic crime, having communicated by electronic means something likely to annoy or cause offence. You are the subject of a criminal investigation.
This was the scenario which confronted the Revd Dr Alan Clifford, Pastor of the Norwich Reformed Church, the weekend before last. In theory, he could have declined the fine and refused to provide a statement, but Dr Clifford is a helpful and accommodating sort of chap. So, at 5.45pm