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Allow us to check your thinking

On Harry Miller’s important win against Britain’s thought police

29 February 2020

9:00 AM

29 February 2020

9:00 AM

‘You have to understand,’ PC Gul allegedly intoned, ‘sometimes in the womb, a female brain gets confused and pushes out the wrong body parts, and that is what transgender is.’

Harry Miller, owner of a stevedoring firm and ex-policeman, was flummoxed. ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. Wrong body parts? You have to know that is absolute bullshit. Is this really the official police line?’

‘Yes,’ came the reply. ‘I have been on a course’.

The judgment in Miller vs College of Policing & Anor is full of gems like this. The Speccie could simply print several pages of highlights in a supplement. There’s no way I can top it. One wonders what happened to the right body parts. Did they remain in utero? Has this theory about a confused brain pushing out the wrong body parts been peer-reviewed? Was PC Gul suggesting only female brains get confused and push out the wrong body parts? ‘I’ve been on a course’ can be used to back up any claim, no matter how outrageous. ‘Ants are not real. They are little tiny robots’. ‘Really?’ ‘Yes. I’ve been on a course’.

The course, in case you were wondering, was run by Stonewall, a UK gay rights lobbying outfit that has rather lost its mojo: now we gays, lesbians, and bisexuals have satisfied our civil society claims, Stonewall is focussing all its energy on transgender rights. Mr Miller, the ex-copper-now-docker mentioned above, was rather rude about Stonewall, its courses, and trans rights activism more broadly. The medium for his rudeness was Twitter. His conversation with PC Gul took place after a single formal complaint about his tweeting was made to Humberside Police, which duly dispatched an officer to Miller’s place of work — ostensibly ‘to check his thinking’.

As most of you know, Miller sued, seeking judicial review not only of an unwanted visit from Plod, but also of having a ‘non-crime hate incident’ placed on his record — the sort that appears when one goes through an enhanced criminal history check. He won on the first claim but lost on the second. Put shortly, the court ruled that a lawful policy (the College of Policing’s ‘Hate Crime Operational Guidance’, or HCOG) had been unlawfully applied in this particular case. The fact that police recorded an allegation against Miller was not in itself unlawful: rather, the illegality stemmed from the actions of Humberside Police after the ‘non-crime hate incident’ was recorded.

Mind you, Miller was given a ‘leapfrog’ certificate to appeal to the Supreme Court (the UK equivalent of ‘special leave’) on the criminal history claim. The country’s superior appellate court will now decide whether the recording of non-crime hate incidents pursuant to HCOG is unlawful at common law or contravenes the UK’s treaty obligations on freedom of expression.

The Miller case is occurring against a background of loopy UK-wide spats over transgender rights. A tax policy expert was sacked for refusing to use someone’s preferred pronouns. Comedian Graham Linehan (of Father Ted fame), like Miller, received an unwanted visit from Plod and a ‘harassment warning’ over his trans-tweeting. A journalist who criticised trans rights activists on the BBC had her face photoshopped onto pornographic images and uploaded all over the internet in addition to Plod attempting to pressure her into an interview under caution with the duty solicitor rather than her own solicitor. People are being expelled from the Labour party for saying women don’t have penises. Dawn Butler, a candidate for Labour’s deputy leadership, bowled up on Good Morning Britain last week and told her increasingly stunned interlocutor, ‘a child is born without sex, a child is formed without sex in the beginning’.

The involvement of law enforcement is particularly notable. There’s been a concerted attempt to control private citizens’ social media activity and wider political debate, which is why Miller’s win is important. The court laid into Humberside Police (and by extension forces around the country) for pitching up at people’s workplaces and homes over jokes on Twitter or — in the case of journalists — standard reporting and commentary. Orwell was name-checked. The words ‘Gestapo’ and ‘Stasi’ were used. Police will now have to wind their necks in.

That police have complained bitterly about being ‘under-resourced’ while black boys in London are knifed at record rates and Pakistani Muslim grooming gangs in the North and Midlands have been allowed free rein is now a national scandal. After the ruling, the Police Federation’s chairman conceded the point: ‘I can understand why the public are confused when we’re saying we are so overstretched, then we have police knocking on the door saying, “Why are you saying that in a tweet?”’

Miller’s appeal on HCOG is also one to watch. As it stands, HCOG describes a hate incident as ‘any non-crime incident which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice against a person who is [x] or perceived to be [x].’ Importantly, the definition is based on perception alone, rather than an objective assessment of whether there is evidence of hostility or prejudice. HCOG doesn’t apply only to transgender people, either, but to anyone with a ‘protected characteristic’ under the Blair-era Equality Act. Miller’s lawyers have a point when they argue this is a form of ‘pre-crime’ and that the trans lobby has weaponised HCOG when compared to other minorities with their own lobbying outfits. People are being landed with criminal records in all but name without even a hint of due process.

When I was a wee girl, my father joked that Heaven had French chefs, German engineers, Italian lovers and British police. Hell, meanwhile, had French engineers, German lovers, Italian police and British chefs. In recent years, food in these Islands has improved enormously, but the police seem to have lost their way. They have done so as part of a moment of national madness. Much of the country — and certainly all of Labour — really does need to check its thinking, but not in the way PC Gul meant.

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Helen Dale won the Miles Franklin Award for The Hand that Signed the Paper and read law at Oxford. Her most recent novel is Kingdom of the Wicked.

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