Press Release

Police try to intimidate and censor Tory councillor from speaking to media after free speech ‘hate crime’ arrest

13 October 2023         Issued by: Christian Concern

In a disturbing development, Northamptonshire Police has tried to intimidate and censor a Tory councillor from speaking to the media after he was arrested for an alleged ‘hate crime.’

In August, Cllr Anthony Stevens, 50, from Wellingborough, who is being supported by the Christian Legal Centre, told the media his harrowing story of being arrested in front of his family for a handful of tweets defending free speech.

A local Conservative councillor for 3 years, on 8 August Cllr Steven’s home was swooped on by police without warning.

Searched in front of his wife and children he was detained at Kettering police station, where he was grilled about a recent tweet where he shared a petition in support of fellow Conservative councillor, King Lawal.

In July 2023, Cllr King Lawal had had his life ‘torn apart’ for a tweet expressing his Christian belief that Pride is sin. Within days of sending the tweet, Cllr Lawal, 31, was suspended from the Conservative Group on the Council and cancelled by many other organisations which included him being forced out of his own business and even being barred from holding a surgery at a local library.

‘Censorship letter from the police’

Following media interest in Cllr Stevens’ arrest, Baroness Foster had tweeted to Northamptonshire Police describing what had happened as an ‘appalling episode and breach of free speech’ and urged them to drop the charges so that Cllr Stevens can ‘get on with his life.’

In response, the Chief Constable of Northamptonshire Police, Nick Adderley, 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.

The letter said: “Following your arrest on the 8 August 2023 on suspicion of offences contrary to sections 19 (1) and 27 (3) of the Public Order Act 1986, I have been made aware of a number of media publications relating to the investigation.

“As I am sure you are aware the investigation remains live and you remain on police bail, however, these publications appear to contain direct quotes from yourself and refer to your arrest, interview and investigative material pertinent to the case.

“In such circumstances Northamptonshire Police will review any media publications or other comments made by anyone in a public forum which directly relate to an investigation to ensure the information contained within it could not impact on any future proceedings, or impact on your right to a fair trial.

“As such I would like to take this opportunity to advise that you consider taking legal advice prior to any contact with media sources or making comment within public forum about this case, or the circumstances.”

‘Our client will not be intimidated’

In response, Cllr Stevens’ lawyers have written 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. Media publications about this matter, and our client’s engagement with media enquiries, enjoy a high level of protection under Article 10 ECHR: see R(Miller) v The College of Policing [2020] EWHC 225 (Admin), paras 251-252.”

The letter outlined further legal arguments defending Cllr Stevens’ right to speak to the media about what has happened to him, and concluded by saying that “(we regret to say) DI Hopkinson’s letter-writing campaign can only be described as 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.”

‘I must be allowed to speak’

Responding to the development, Cllr Stevens, who nearly died from covid last year, said: “The police don’t know what sort of man they have taken on. I had to fight to survive a near death experience last year and I will not stop fighting for justice in this case and to expose what has happened to me.

“It is fair to say that when I pulled the letter from my letter box and opened it, I was shocked and worried, but now I am just angry and appalled.

“As far as I am aware, we do not live in a police-state where members of the public, especially democratically elected members of the public, can be arrested without warning at their home for defending free speech and then muzzled from speaking about it.

“I am all in on fighting against what has happened so that no one else has to go through this.

“It is appalling and bizarre to be brutally arrested for sharing a petition in defending the right to free speech of a fellow Councillor.

“The accusation of racial hatred is ridiculous and insulting. My only crime has been supporting the only black local councillor in Northamptonshire.

“Labour activists and police officers have trawled through my Twitter account to find some better angles to intimidate me, have failed to find any evidence of inciting racial hatred, and yet have thrown this accusation at me anyway to smear me. Christianity is not a race. Islam is not a race. Defending free speech is not the same thing as agreeing with what has been said, or admiring who is saying this.

“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 going to swiftly go to pot.

“I was shocked when the police turned up at my house unannounced and came onto my property. Frankly, it was frightening, and no doubt intended to be so. I was then arrested and humiliated in front of my wife and children. Even if the police had legitimate questions to ask me (which I am yet to hear), there was no need to ambush me in my own house, arrest me, search me, keep me in the cell for the whole day, interrogate me or confiscate my phone.

“If elected members cannot share their beliefs or support each other in their right to share their beliefs without losing our jobs and being arrested, then we are in a very dark place.”

Background to the case

In July 2023, Cllr King Lawal had had his life ‘torn apart’ for a tweet expressing his Christian belief that Pride is sin. Within days of sending the tweet, Cllr Lawal, 31, was suspended from the Conservative Group on the Council and cancelled by many other organisations which included him being forced out of his own business and even being barred from holding a surgery at a local library.

Mr Lawal had launched a petition, which has been signed by over 26,000 people, calling on the Chairman of the Conservative Party, Greg Hands, to intervene.

Cllr Stevens responded by tweeting in support of Cllr Lawal and free speech to his 76 followers. He shared the petition with a brief comment: ‘If you value free speech please sign and share’.

He also shared a video of Mr Lawal being interviewed by Jacob Rees-Mogg on GB News 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.’

Mr Stevens describes himself as a ‘free speech absolutist’. He believes any individual should be allowed to share their beliefs and opinions even if it offends someone and that even if he disagrees with someone, he will defend their right to express their beliefs.

After sharing these tweets, on 8 August, without warning, Cllr Stevens was at his home with his wife and children when two police officers appeared through his side gate which was open and had not used the intercom.

He was told he was under arrest for a public order offence under section 19 of the Public Order Act 1986.

Cllr Stevens was then escorted to Kettering police station where he had his fingerprints and DNA taken and was placed in a cell.

Taken to the interview room, he was 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 print-outs of posts at his Twitter account. Cllr Stevens pointed out that he could not see the print outs as he was taken by surprise by his arrest and was not given an opportunity to take his spectacles with him. However, the officers insisted on pressing ahead with the interview.

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, 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 who asked the question was reportedly visibly angry with this response.

Cllr Stevens was also questioned about two other historic posts he made on Twitter 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 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 has defended Cllr Lawal.

Cllr Stevens was then released on bail while his mobile phone was seized to be searched for further evidence. He is required to surrender himself at Kettering police station on 1 November.

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

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