Paul Weston, the Euro Election Candidate who was arrested in Winchester over the weekend, is an anti-islamic racist. He is a former member of UKIP (for whom he was a candidate for the City of London at the 2010 general election). He ratted on them to join something called the British Freedom Party and then – emulating his hero Churchill – “re-ratted” to found his own party that he calls Liberty GB.
Since Mary Tudor married Philip II of Spain in 1554 not a great deal has happened in Winchester. The beautiful city where I grew up and where I have either lived or worked for most of my life rarely features much in the national news.
The River Itchen still flows quietly past the ruins of Wolvesey Palace, evensong responses echo through the choir of the cathedral and My Lords the Queens Justices still dispense justice though nowadays they do so in a hideous 1970s “Combined Justice Centre” rather than in the draughty Great Hall of the Castle.
And it may eventually be to that Palais de Justice that Paul Weston is heading if he is prosecuted over last weekend’s anti-Islamic speech from the steps of the City’s Guildhall.
The arrest has prompted understandable concerns, not least from Daniel Hannan, a Conservative MEP and a candidate standing against Mr Weston. In a characteristically persuasive post in the Daily Telegraph blog Mr Hannan expressed concern that Mr Weston should have been arrested.
“Why should it fall to me to defend him? Where are the lion-hearted liberals who are so quick to denounce political arrests in distant dictatorships? I realise that “political arrest” is a strong phrase, but it’s hard to think of any other way to describe a candidate for public office being taken into police custody because of objections to the content of his pitch.”
Mr Hannan may have a point but to compare Mr Weston’s brush with the rozzers as something akin to a political arrest in a distant dictatorship is perhaps rather over-doing it.
Liberty GB is an anti-EU, anti-immigration, and virulently anti-Islamic party which broadly speaking seems to think that UKIP is too soft on foreigners and muslims.
In his inaugural speech last year in Croydon Town Hall Mr Weston set out his stall:
“…go to any city centre which is inundated with the Third World. You will not see any white people in Tower Hamlets, you will not see white people in parts of Luton, parts of Leicester, all across the country, because they have been driven out, they have lost their right to exist as a culture and a race in their own country. This is what’s happened in an incredibly short period of time, and it started from a small base. Now that small base of people, when they double, when that demographic doubles from a hundred thousand to two hundred thousand that doesn’t really matter. But when you get to the point now where we’ve got four million Muslims in this country, they are going to become eight million within the next decade, and then sixteen million, and then thirty-two million. And we meanwhile are dwindling as a race.
Our government is against us, our media is against us, we are losing a racial war, we are losing a cultural war.”
In short, he espouses nasty racist views and when he was arrested he was espousing the nasty racist views of the young Winston Churchill, and doing so fortissimo from property belonging – apparently – to the city council. It is not entirely clear what happened but if, as seems to have been the case, a woman from inside the building took exception to this behaviour one can well understand why.
Should he have chosen, instead of the Guildhall, to deliver his rant from the front steps of my chambers I would have asked the police to move him on without bothering too much about infringing his liberty.
As it happens, given his opinion that “any city centre … is inundated with the Third World” it is rather ironic that he should have chosen Winchester to complain, as he did (in Churchill’s words) of the “improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live.”
Some years ago I decided, along with my wife and mother in law, to move back to Winchester to live. Since they were both ethnically Turkish and “followers of the Prophet” this could be seen, I suppose, as our own personal contribution to the Third World inundation of the city that so troubles Mr Weston. He will be pleased to learn that we no longer live there. Nevertheless my chambers is based in Winchester and I often work there so I can confidently report that the city remains resolutely white and, to coin the sort of horrible word that best does justice to Mr Weston’s world view, largely (though not entirely) muslimfrei. A rather odd place, perhaps, to declare a “counter-jihad”.
Back to the arrest. It is not entirely clear what it was actually for and the law in this area is fiendishly complicated. The generally very reliable Hampshire Chronicle reports that the arrest was for “religious or racial harassment” and it seems possible that the police used their powers under S.5 of the Public Order Act 1986:
within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.
If the offence is “racially or religiously aggravated” (as defined in S.28 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998) a constable is entitled to arrest on suspicion that such an offence has been committed; otherwise he must first warn the suspect to stop engaging in offensive conduct and can then arrest him if he persists. It is the same power that police can use to arrest gobby youths who are unwise enough to tell police officers to “F*** Off” after being told to shut up. Causing “racially or religiously aggravated harassment alarm or distress” is not an imprisonable offence.
The Liberty GB website – which unsurprisingly has made a good deal of the incident – states that he was initially arrested for failing to heed a “S.27 Dispersal Notice”. This would appear to be a reference to a Notice under S.27 of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 which enables the police to direct that an individual whose presence is “likely to to cause or to contribute to the occurrence of alcohol-related crime or disorder…” should leave the locality, although in fairness to Mr Weston nobody seems to have suggested that he was under the influence of alcohol.
The website also suggests that he was later arrested for the more serious offence of “racially aggravated fear or provocation of violence” under S.4 of the Public Order Act 1986. This would require proof that Mr Weston actually intended that another person should believe that “immediate unlawful violence” would be used, or that such violence “would be provoked.” It seems more likely, however, that the provision used was S.4A:
thereby causing that or another person harassment, alarm or distress.
Should he be prosecuted for a public order offence it would be a defence to prove that his conduct was “reasonable,” something which would give Mr Weston plenty of opportunity to grandstand.
Committing either the S.4 or the S.4A offence in their racially or religiously aggravated forms, as Liberty UK correctly points out, are offences carrying possible prison sentences of up to 2 years.
Of course Mr Weston has not yet been charged with any offence and it is quite possible that he will not be.
Undoubtedly this is a wide law and perhaps it is too wide. It is certainly too complicated . Partly for these reasons it is impossible not to sympathise with the police who have a duty to uphold a confusing law whether they approve of it or not. There seems to have been a complaint about Mr Weston bawling into his megaphone and they were bound to act. They spent 40 minutes talking to Mr Weston before arresting him, which does not suggest an unreasonable attitude. Perhaps the matter could have been dealt with in another way but officers do not have to have certainty before they arrest someone. They have to interpret a difficult law as well as they can.
The Crown Prosecution Service, on the other hand, do have the luxury of time and they will use it to decide whether he should be prosecuted. Unless the facts turn out to be very different indeed from those reported it would seem exceptionally unwise to institute proceedings.
Prosecutions of political extremists for their political activities are dubious in principle and almost always turn out badly. Green MP Caroline Lucas’s recent prosecution for obstructing a police officer in the course of the Balcombe anti-fracking demonstrations ended, as these things have a way of doing, by giving Ms Lucas thousands of pounds worth of free publicity at public expense. A similar fate befell the far more expensive 2006 prosecution of Nick Griffin for inciting racial hatred.
It is unlikely to be in the public interest to spend thousands of pounds making a martyr of a man like Weston.