The cost of 'free' speech

This article on the BBC's website today tells the tale of an individual who thought it was appropriate to celebrate the deliberate and merciless deaths of two female police officers responding to what they thought was a follow up to a burglary call.

Barry Thew was arrested for wearing the T-shirt, then sentenced to four months for a public order offence, to which he pleaded guilty. I suppose we must give him credit for that. I suppose we must also cut the man some slack and consider he may have come from a disadvantaged background, or had had previous unfavourable dealings with the police. I'm not sure that excuses him from wearing a slogan so crass and disgusting.

However this case brings up an awkward discussion on the right to free speech. The man, however disgusting, had an opinion, however foul, and stated it. I happen not to agree with him, but I'll bet there are others who do.

But what about the off-colour joke made too soon after a disaster (Matthew Jones, jailed), or the anguish of an outraged fan that comes out in a distressing text? The man who texted that Tom Daley's deceased father would be disappointed in his Olympic performance was also beaten up by the authorities (although not charged), both using a rusty part of the Misuse of Telecommunications legislation. I very much doubt I would get the same prompt service from the police if someone started to troll me here.

Free speech has never been free; there has always been a cost to using it. Whether that cost has been the disapproval of ones peers who disagree, or the cost of taking a moment to consider if what you are about to say actually enriches us all, it is still a cost. I'm just not sure if the cost should be determined by the police and the CPS.

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