Changing the rules*

What's a Satanist allowed to do on Hallowe'en? Can the police keep your case on file even if you're

My problem is unusual, but I really hope you can help. I've held Hallowe'en parties in the function room of my local for years. I'm also a Satanist. It's never been a problem before, but the pub has recently changed hands and the new landlord has just told me that "goat worshippers" aren't welcome any more. I believe in doing unto others as they do unto you. Can I get my own back?

Thoth McGuffin, Manchester

Thank you for writing. Even the godly can find aspects of Hallowe'en distressing, and your desire to retaliate is evidently sincere. I am sorry to have to tell you, however, that your legal remedies are limited.

I should make it clear that it is not this government's fault. Had the Home Office had its way, revenge might well have been yours. The Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 potentially criminalises the deliberate stirring up of hatred along religious lines, and though "religious" is not defined, a court is unlikely to discriminate against Satanism. In fact, the Ministry of Defence has already given your faith its implicit blessing. In October 2004, it permitted a Royal Navy technician named Chris Cranmer to worship Satan at sea, so long as the ship's operations and the crew's welfare were not disrupted by his diabolical rituals.

Unhappily for you, the scope of the act is not as far-reaching as it could have been. David Blunkett and Jack Straw wanted to criminalise any "abusive" or "insulting" behaviour that made hatred of religions "likely", but their proposals failed to get through the upper chamber. After House of Lords amendments, which both men vehemently opposed, the law that was eventually passed covers only "threatening" actions that deliberately stir up hate. The landlord's "goat worshipping" slur has clearly offended you - but I fear, without for a moment seeking to belittle your pain, that the insult lacks the venomous intent a successful prosecution would require.

I hope you can at least take comfort from this thought: following the government's reforms, threats that were once thought to merit no more than six months in jail now attract up to seven years. It is not as vindictive as you would like, but it is certainly a step in your direction.

I've just been acquitted of a criminal charge – a minor driving matter. I appreciate that the magistrates' court will retain a file on the case, but how can I make sure that the police records are destroyed?

A relieved reader, Leeds

You almost certainly cannot. Recent guidelines from the Association of Chief Police Officers advise forces across the country to retain all personal data that they ever record, including details of acquittals, for an indefinite period - or, more precisely, until the subject of the information "is deemed to have attained 100 years of age".

The guidelines were drawn up in response to the Soham inquiry, and you could try suggesting to your local chief constable that a concern to prevent child murders does not require him to retain details about literally every crime that turns out not to have occurred. He is unlikely, however, to agree.

The Acpo guidelines themselves extend to about 6,000 offences, and the list is nothing if not exhaustive. Among the crimes covered are "wrestling, fighting, or struggling with an untrained bull". Another is "possession of a stolen dog skin". Most impressive of all is the inclusion of "attempted suicide", an act that ceased to be illegal in 1961. Your best hope is that the Police National Computer can be trusted. The next best is that your 100th birthday rolls around soon.

Sadakat Kadri is a barrister and author of "The Trial: a history from Socrates to O J Simpson" (Harper Perennial, 2006). Send your civil liberties and human-rights dilemmas to: Changing the Rules, New Statesman, 52 Grosvenor Gardens, London SW1W 0AU. This column appears fortnightly

*"The rules of the game have changed" Tony Blair, August 2005