police 2
Image: © Robin Stevens

Should police prosecute men who laughed at Grenfell fire?

Five men have been arrested for burning a picture of Grenfell Tower, while Police chief says there's not enough resources to tackle offensive speech.

What it means: Seventy-one people died in the Grenfell Tower fire last year. So making a video in which you burn a replica of it while making comments like “that’s what happens when they don’t pay their rent”, is certainly not in good taste. But should it be a crime? Five men have just been arrested for it under the Public Order Act, which says you can’t say or do anything threatening, abusive or insulting in a public place (the men were apparently in a back garden). Survivors of the fire called the video a hate crime and asked police to prosecute.

But according to Police Chief Sara Thornton, that’s a bad idea, because the police are “seriously stretched” and need to “refocus on core policing” - things like violent crimes and burglary. While she wasn’t responding to the Grenfell incident specifically, Thornton said the desire of campaigners to see offensive speech prosecuted as hate crimes was “well-meaning” but “cannot be [police] priorities”.

Some Brits feel that most hate speech is not “real crime” and that calls to prosecute it are little more than “PC nonsense” (PC here is short for 'politically correct'). But plenty of people disagree, and think it was a mistake to cut the UK police budget by 18 percent since 2010, when the Conservative government embarked on its austerity programme.

If they had to choose, most Brits probably would rather send their bobbies out after murderers than obnoxious but non-violent effigy-burners. But whether they’d rather put enough money into the police force to send them out after both, or spend that money on other things such as paying down government debt, building more schools and hospitals, or putting more money in people’s pockets by cutting taxes, is an open question.

Read our explainers on economic values.

Recent articles

Reader Comments