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11 November 2010updated 01 Jul 2021 12:14pm

We don’t need the law to tackle Twitter bigots

The arrest of a Tory councillor over a Twitter “joke” is an insult to all liberals.

By George Eaton

On the day that the first “Twitter Joke Trial” concludes, the site is at the centre of another legal controversy. Gareth Compton, a Conservative Birmingham City councillor, has been arrested after he “jokingly” called for Independent columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to be stoned to death.

Compton tweeted: “Can someone please stone Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to death? I shan’t tell Amnesty if you don’t. It would be a blessing, really.”

Tweet

He soon deleted the tweet and issued an apologetic statement:

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I did not “call” for the stoning of anybody. I made an ill-conceived attempt at humour in response to Yasmin Alibhai-Brown saying on Radio 5 Live this morning, that no politician had the right to comment on human rights abuses, even the stoning of women in Iran. I apologise for any offence caused. It was wholly unintentional.

But the damage was done. Compton was suspended from the Conservative Party and reported to West Midlands Police. The BBC is now reporting that he’s been arrested under the Communications Act 2003 – an extraordinarily disproportionate response. Compton’s “joke” was crass (and rather sinister), but it was clearly not a threat of violence.

This isn’t the first time that a political figure has fallen foul of Twitter, of course. The Labour MP David Wright was forced to apologise after he described the Tories as “scum-sucking pigs” and hasn’t tweeted since. Then there was Stuart MacLennan, who was sacked as Labour’s PPC in Moray after he posted a series of abusive messages on the site.

Compton’s comments were more severe, but his arrest is an insult to all freethinking liberals. We can ridicule and condemn the likes of Compton ourselves, we don’t need the police to get involved.

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