British veteran Darren Brady said Hampshire police were “impeding his right to free speech” by tracking him down for reposting a meme featuring the LGBT “pride” flag arranged in the shape of a swastika.
In viral footage of the arrest taken by political activist Laurence Fox who created the meme, officers tell the 51-year-old at his residence in Aldershot that “someone has been caused anxiety based on your social media post. That is why you have been arrested.”
A spokeswoman for the Hampshire Constabulary told The Federalist that officers confronted Brady following a report “that an offensive image had been shared online.” It is unclear who filed the report but officers visited Brady’s home to “establish the exact circumstances around the social media post.”
Harry Miller, a former police officer and Bad Law Project CEO who was also arrested, said police first tried to “extort” Brady by demanding he “pay around £80 for educational course so he could downgrade from a crime to a non-crime, which would still show up in a basic Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check.”
That’s why when officers promised to return on July 28 to hear Brady’s final answer about “re-education,” both Fox and Miller were on the scene to document what Miller dubbed the “world’s worst shakedown.” When officers arrived at Brady’s house for a second time, the police spokeswoman said “they were prevented from entering the address to discuss a potential resolution to the matter.”
“As a result, officers felt it was necessary to arrest a man at the scene so they could interview him in relation to the alleged offence,” the spokeswoman continued. She also said a 57-year-old man, whom the Daily Mail identified as Miller, was “arrested on suspicion of obstructing/resisting a constable in execution of duty.”
“He was released under investigation, and our enquiries are ongoing. Due to this being a live investigation we cannot comment further,” the spokeswoman said.
Officers claimed to be “investigating an alleged offence under Section 127 of the Communications Act (2003),” a sweeping law that gives the United Kingdom government the authority to imprison someone if officials deem his online posts “grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character,” or if he knowingly makes a false post “for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another.”
The spokeswoman made it clear that “no further action is being taken” against Brady but maintains that officers “come to work every day to protect the public” and were “acting in good faith” when they singled out Brady.
“We are engaging further with our police and crime commissioner to make sure that we deploy our resource in a way that reflects need in our local communities,” she concluded.
Donna Jones, the Hampshire police and crime commissioner, issued a statement criticizing her own force and voicing concern “about both the proportionality and necessity of the police’s response to this incident.”
“When incidents on social media receive not one but two visits from police officers, but burglaries and non-domestic break-ins don’t always get a police response, something is wrong,” Jones said before promising to write the College of Policing asking for “greater clarification” on how police should respond “more appropriately in the future.”
That hasn’t stopped free speech critics such as Caroline Russell, a member of the Police and Crime Committee in the Greater London Authority, from demanding police “look into Laurence Fox using pride flags to create nazi imagery and posting the images on a public platform.”
“This is a hate crime,” Russell tweeted.