Police drop hate crime charges against Tory councillor

Cllr Anthony Stevens(Photo: Christian Legal Centre)

Police have dropped all charges against a Tory councillor who was arrested for a hate crime after he shared his support for Christian expressions of free speech on social media. 

Cllr Anthony Stevens, a member of Wellingborough Town Council, was arrested at his home in August after he tweeted his support for fellow Conservative councillor, King Lawal. 

Lawal was suspended by the local Conservative branch and lost his position in several organisations after tweeting that "pride is sin". He has since been reinstated by his local Conservative Party group.

Police arrested Stevens at his home in front of his wife and children for apparently breaching section 19 of the Public Order Act 1986.

The arrest came after he posted a number of tweets in support of Lawal. In one post, Stevens retweeted a petition supporting the reinstatement of Lawal which he captioned with the words: "If you value free speech please sign and share."

In another post, he shared a video of Lawal speaking on GBNews to Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg about his suspension. He captioned the post: "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."

Stevens, who was supported by the Christian Legal Centre, said that when he was taken to the police interrogation room, he was told he had been arrested for allegedly 'inciting racial hatred', a charge he called "ridiculous".

He also claimed that the police tried to intimidate him into not speaking with the media about his case. He has since made a complaint to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).

At the time, Lord Macdonald, former director of public prosecutions, shared concerns about Stevens' arrest: "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."

The Crown Prosecution Service informed Stevens this week that the case against him has been dropped and further action will be taken.

Stevens gave a cautious welcome to the news: "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."

He continued, "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." 

He went on to say that 'hate crime' laws are being weaponised to "shut down free speech". 

"I believe my case is a worrying sign of potential things to come," he said. 

"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."