Press Release

Police drop case against Tory councillor arrested for ‘hate crime’ for supporting Christian free speech

8 December 2023         Issued by: Christian Concern

The police have dropped all charges against a Tory councillor after he was arrested for a ‘hate crime’ for supporting Christian freedom of speech on X/Twitter.

Cllr Anthony Stevens, 51, who has been supported by the Christian Legal Centre, was arrested at his home without warning in August for a handful of tweets which included support for fellow Conservative councillor, King Lawal.

In July, Cllr Lawal had been suspended by the local Conservative group and had been cancelled from several organisations, including a local library and had to step down from his own company for saying on X that ‘Pride is Sin.’

Cllr Stevens retweeted a petition calling for Cllr Lawal to be reinstated to his 76 followers and commented: ‘If you value free speech please sign and share’.

He also shared a video of Mr Lawal being interviewed on GB News by Conservative MP, Jacob Rees-Mogg, and said: ‘That is my friend, everyone has a right to their beliefs, people can disagree as is their right but to ruin their standing because of them is wrong.’

On the 8 August, however, the police arrived unannounced at Cllr Stevens’ home, searched him in front of his wife and children and told him he was under arrest for a public order offence under section 19 of the Public Order Act 1986.

Detained at Kettering police station, he had his fingerprints and DNA taken and was placed in a police cell for 6 hours.

Taken to the interview room, he was interrogated and told that he had been arrested for allegedly ‘inciting racial hatred’. Cllr Stevens was shocked and said: ‘That is ridiculous, I am no racist.’

He was then asked if he was a local councillor and whether he belonged to the Conservative party. He was also asked if he knew certain members of the Labour Party in Northampton who had reported him to the police.

He was then interrogated about screenshots of posts on his X/Twitter account.

Officers showed Cllr Stevens his tweets regarding Cllr Lawal and asked him why he supported the petition. Cllr Stevens stated that he is a free speech absolutist and that even if he does not agree with someone/something, he believes in their right to express their beliefs.

He was then asked if he agreed with Cllr Lawal’s original tweet that Pride is a sin, including LGBT events. Cllr Stevens said that it did not matter whether he agreed with what he said or not, he believed he had the right to say it without having his life torn apart.

The officer asking the questions was reportedly visibly angry with this response.

Cllr Stevens was also questioned about two other historic posts he made on X between March and May.

One tweet, made in March, involved a video of a man burning a copy of the Qur’an and agreed that this was part of his right to free speech in a free society.

The other tweet involved a video on how the police had treated a Christian street preacher compared to a Muslim preacher. The video showed the arrest of Christian preacher Oluwole Ilesanmi in Southgate, London, in 2019.

The arrest, which involved police snatching Pastor Oluwole’s Bible and accusing him of being racist for criticising Islam, led to international outrage, with the video being viewed over 10 million times globally.

The police officers told Cllr Stevens that the original tweet he had shared had been posted by a member of Britain First. Cllr Stevens said he had not known this and had not known who Britain First were. He only re-posted the video as disturbing evidence of religious discrimination in law enforcement.

The interview finished with officers again pressing Cllr Stevens on why he had defended Cllr Lawal.

With his mobile phone seized to be searched for further evidence, Cllr Stevens was then released on police bail.

‘Censorship letter from the police’

Going to the media with his story, Baroness Jacqueline Foster tweeted the Chief Constable of Northamptonshire Police, Nick Adderley, describing what had happened as an ‘appalling episode and breach of free speech’. She urged the police to drop the charges so that Cllr Stevens can ‘get on with his life.’

In response, Adderly said he had requested a ‘review’ of the ‘circumstances and facts of the case.’

Instead of the case being dropped against him, however, Cllr Stevens received a letter through his door from Detective Inspector Mark Hopkinson from the Criminal Investigation department seeking to intimidate him into not speaking to the media.

In response, Cllr Stevens’ lawyers wrote to the police stating:

“The arrest of our client, a democratically elected office-holder, for social media posts about matters of public interest, is self-evidently a matter for legitimate media attention, public debate and criticism.”

The letter accused the police of “an outright attempt to intimidate our client and media organisations and to stifle legitimate criticism of the police. Such behaviour is wholly unacceptable for a police officer in a free country.

“Please note that our client will not be intimidated and fully reserves the right to inform the public about your client’s oppressive, arbitrary and/or unconstitutional conduct. All our client’s rights are fully reserved.”

Cllr Stevens has since made a complaint to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) regarding his treatment.

On November 1, the bail conditions were extended and included Cllr Stevens being unable to attend council committee meetings at the same time as another Labour Councillor.

Cllr Stevens challenged these conditions, accusing the police of ‘interfering with the democratic process of Wellingborough Town Council and the administration of my duties as an elected representative in particular.’

This week, however, Cllr Stevens was phoned by the Crown Prosecution Service and was told that the case against him was dropped and that there would be no further action.

Northamptonshire Police, with no explanation or apology, put in an email: ‘I write to inform you that Mr Anthony STEVENS has been informed this evening of the Crown Prosecutions decision that there will be No Further Action in relation to his involved case.’

‘Sign of things to come’

Responding to the news, Cllr Stephens, said: “Yes, I have been vindicated and I am relieved that no further action will be taken, but look what I have been put through. My reputation, business, health and even my relationships, have been seriously affected by this abuse of police power.

“There will always be a note on my police file saying that I was investigated for a ‘hate crime’ – that is wrong.

“I was arrested in front of my children and labelled a racist by two Labour councillors. When the police arrived on my property it was clear they had made up their mind about me and behaved in a biased way towards me. I have serious concerns about how the Labour councillors and the police worked together, even colluded, to try and intimidate and silence me.

“The accusation of racial hatred was ridiculous and insulting and was an attempt to smear me. My only crime had been supporting the only black local councillor in Northamptonshire and his freedom to express his Christian beliefs.

“It is deeply concerning that by alleging ‘hate crime’, members of the public, and even labour politicians, can weaponise and use the police to try and take out democratically elected opposition and shut down free speech. I believe my case is a worrying sign of potential things to come.

“The police even interfered in my democratic right to represent the people who elected me by adding extra bail restrictions to stop me attending council meetings and extended my bail twice only to take no further action.

“As soon as I was released from the cells, with my phone and DNA taken, I knew I had to go to the media as I knew I had not done anything wrong. I was determined to not be silenced, but then the police even tried to prevent me from speaking to the media. What did they have to hide?

“In a true democratic society, you cannot have people being arrested for a few tweets. We must have debate; we must have the freedom to criticise and offend each other; otherwise this country is heading towards a very dark place.”

At the time Cllr Stevens’ story broke, Lord Macdonald, former director of public prosecutions, said: “It is essential that police officers are properly trained in the importance of free speech rights and the particularly strong protection that the law gives to political speech. 

“Some cases reveal an alarming ignorance and are bound to chill public participation in democratic debate. Causing offence is not, and never should be, a crime. If it becomes so, we will lose something precious treasured by generations of Britons.”

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