A teenager who is poised to launch legal action over new police rules that may land children who voice their opinion in the classroom with a criminal record says she is protecting freedom of speech.
The 14-year-old is threatening to bring a judicial review in response to guidance from the College of Policing that officers should keep a record of ‘non-criminal hate incidents’ even when they do not break the law.
Speaking to The Mail on Sunday, the teenager said: ‘We can’t live in fear that everything we say at school may be recorded somewhere on our records, simply because someone else didn’t like what you said.’
Civil liberties groups warn that non-crime hate incidents can show up on criminal checks later in life and are based purely on the perception of a victim or others, rather than on evidence.
The 14-year-old is threatening to bring a judicial review in response to guidance from the College of Policing that officers should keep a record of ‘non-criminal hate incidents’ even when they do not break the law (file photo)
The girl, known only as Miss B, said she freely discusses current affairs at home with her mother, but feels stifled when talking about topics such as gender and race at school.
‘Children in my class have said that we shouldn’t have freedom of speech because it can upset people,’ she said. ‘Just recently, a student said Of Mice And Men shouldn’t be a class text because some of the words in the book are racist. I said that it’s a book of its time and it’s important to look at the context. I felt immediately ganged up on. The teacher backed me up but it was scary.’
The classic 1937 book, by John Steinbeck, is about two displaced migrant ranch workers in America seeking jobs during the Great Depression.
In the past five years, police in England and Wales have recorded 120,000 non-crime hate incidents. While they do not meet the criminal threshold, the incidents are perceived to be motivated by hostility or prejudice about race, religion, disability, sexual preference or transgender issues.
Guidance from the College of Policing issued in October says the motivations could include ‘ill-will, spite, contempt, prejudice, unfriendliness, antagonism, resentment and dislike’ and tells officers to ‘record the incident, recording the police interactions and the results of those actions’. Repeated name-calling or verbal abuse could be seen as harassment.
Miss B, who is dyslexic and has a condition that makes it hard for her to understand sounds, has strong views about transgenderism, but now feels inhibited about discussing the topic. She said: ‘Is it out of order for a 14-year-old girl to question in a school setting if it’s appropriate for a male-bodied person to be present in her sports changing area, toilets and dorms without fear of police intervention?’
She said: ‘Just recently, a student said Of Mice And Men shouldn’t be a class text because some of the words in the book are racist. I said that it’s a book of its time and it’s important to look at the context. I felt immediately ganged up on. The teacher backed me up but it was scary’
She has had no contact from police over her views, but is considering her case on ideological grounds. She fears her health conditions put her at greater risk of being misunderstood by others.
The teenager, who is represented by Sinclairs Law, which has launched a crowdfunding page to fight the guidance, said: ‘I hope the guidance is changed so that it’s clear that it should never apply in schools or to children and that police records should not be made, except where they are really needed to prevent crime.’
The College of Policing said the guidance was intended to help forces ‘in how to best preserve freedom of speech while protecting people from crime… An incident may be the precursor to more serious actions or crime and, while not all incidents will escalate this way, it is only by recording concerns that police can assess the seriousness’.