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British Police Officers Ask Blogger to Delete Politically Critical Tweet

BY Jessica McKenzie | Tuesday, May 13 2014

This weekend two Cambridgeshire police officers called upon the blogger Michael Abberton at his home residence. After asking to come in for a chat they asked Abberton to delete a certain tweet, even though they clearly said no laws had been broken. According to Abberton, who wrote about the exchange on his blog Axe of Reason, the complaint had come from the political party mentioned in the offending (although not in any way illegal) tweet. The exchange has raised questions about censorship, police intimidation, and the influence of this political party.

This was the tweet the police officers asked Abberton to take down.

Per Abberton:

They asked me to 'take it down' but I said I couldn't do that as it had already been retweeted and appropriated, copied, many times and I no longer had any control of it (I had to explain to one of the officers what Twitter was and how it worked). They said that they couldn't force me to take it down anyway.

I asked if I could tweet about the visit. The straight answer was 'no', as this might appear prejudicial in light of the upcoming election and the police must appear to remain neutral. But they couldn't stop me from doing so, as I had Freedom of Speech. Incredulously, I said, "...but you must realise [sic] how this looks!" One shrugged, the other looked embarrassed.

In addition to asking a blogger to not write about the visit, the officers apparently acknowledged that “it really wasn't a police matter” in the first place. And yet in spite of that, Abberton writes that “whilst acknowledging the fact that the police had no right to censure my posts, in order to show goodwill I removed all instances of the poster where I'd sent it @someone, and have not tweeted about the visit or about that political party since.”

As Tim Cushing points out on techdirt, “Sometimes all it takes is a little "friendly persuasion" from law enforcement officers to get the intended result, whether or not the justification is legal. Despite everyone in the police department claiming they had no power to make people remove tweets, tweets were removed.”

The Cambridgeshire police confirmed for Buzzfeed that the visit took place but their explanation is different than the one Abberton reports on his blog:

We were called with a complaint about a message on social media at about 12.40pm on Friday. Inquiries were made as to whether any offences had been committed under the Representation of the People Act but none were revealed and no further action was taken.

They would not confirm that it was a member or representative of UKIP who made the complaint.

However, The Guardian reported that a Cambridgeshire police spokesperson said:

A Ukip councillor came across a tweet which he took exception to. The name of the person on the tweet was identified and that individual was spoken to. We looked at this for offences and there was nothing we could actually identify that required police intervention. Clearly, the councillor was unhappy about the tweets. If every political person was unhappy about what somebody else said about their views, we would have no politics. [sic]

Abberton contacted his MP, Julian Huppert, about the incident. Huppert told the New Statesman, “It's clearly inappropriate for the police to take action on political disagreement if there's no real sense that there was a criminal activity involved, and having seen the tweets that he [Abberton] sent out, I can't see in what way it would have violated the Representation of the People Act, I can't see any way in which it could be seen as being threatening or abusive.”

"The idea that this could be seen as intimidation, whether pushed by police officers or whether pushed by Ukip is clearly an alarming one," Huppert added. "The role of the police is clearly to defend a free and open democracy, and given that I haven't seen any detailed allegations that he'd committed any sort of offence, it does seem odd and inappropriate for the police to be questioning him like that, and I can see why people would find that very intimidatory."

The Cambridgeshire police chief has said his officers should not have gone to Abberton's hope because “police attendance was not required.”

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