Free speech? Man arrested for burning poppy photo

Police decision to arrest man for Facebook image of burning poppy infuriates campaigners

Stewart Mitchell
12 Nov 2012

Kent police has sparked outrage among free speech advocates after arresting a man for posting a picture of a burning poppy on Remembrance Sunday.

The arrest is the latest example of the police's heavy-handed approach to social networking, and comes as the Crown Prosecution Service is contemplating guidelines on how to apply rules on what can and can't be said without risking arrest.

What was the point of winning either World War if, in 2012, someone can be casually arrested by @kent_police for burning a poppy?

"A man from Aylesham has tonight been arrested on suspicion of malicious telecommunications," Kent police said in a statement after the arrest. "This follows a posting on a social network site of a burning poppy. He is currently in police custody awaiting interview."

Lawyers and campaigners have taken to Twitter to criticise the arrest. "Dear idiots at @kent_police, burning a poppy may be obnoxious, but it is not a criminal offence," tweeted legal commentator David Allen Green, who rose to prominence when working on the case of "Twitter bomber" Paul Chambers.

"What was the point of winning either World War if, in 2012, someone can be casually arrested by @kent_police for burning a poppy?"

The arrest was made under section 127 of the Communications Act, which states that someone can be guilty of an offence if they "send by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character".

The law has come under fire in the past because it is too difficult to define what is "grossly offensive", rather than merely offensive.

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