Student arrested over 'offensive banner' about politicians is cleared


Adam Barr, who had banner with disparaging description of David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage, has case dropped

Source: The Guardian

Owen Bowcott Legal affairs correspondent

Thursday 25 February 2016 14.05 GMT 

Prosecutors have dropped the case against a student who was arrested for holding a banner showing David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage above the slogan “All Fucking Wankers”.

Adam Barr, a student at the London School of Oriential and African Studies (Soas), had been due in court on Friday charged with holding an offensive protest banner under section five of the 1986 Public Order Act.He had been detained last April after a primary school teacher complained about him holding the banner at a protest in east London against developers who build so-called poor doors for social tenants in prestigious housing complexes near the City.

But last week, the Crown Prosecution Service told Barr, 24, it would no longer pursue the case due to lack of evidence.

Barr said: “An officer told me it was a breach of the Public Order Act and that he had received a complaint. The other people holding the banner dropped it. I didn’t believe it was illegal. I was making a political point. It may have been crude, but it was also meant to be humorous. It was about not respecting people in authority just because they get elected in a bent and corrupt system.

“The officer did a weird teacher-like thing: he gave me a minute to consider. He was relatively polite then he came back and arrested me. I was put in a van and taken off to Bethnal Green police station for four hours.”

Barr refused to accept a £90 penalty notice and insisted on being summoned to court where he pleaded not guilty. In the course of the case, Barr was told Tower Hamlets police had inadvertently destroyed the banner.

The complainant told officers she feared pupils in her class might repeat the words if they saw them; she also admitted she was regularly exposed to swearing in the classroom and from other staff. “I’m relieved the case has been discontinued,” Barr said. “It’s amazing it got so far without someone at the CPS realising it breached my freedom of speech.” 

The case echoed another in 2010, when officers from the same Metropolitan police division launched and dropped a similar prosecution.

A local man, David Hoffman, had displayed a picture in his window of David Cameron with the word “wanker” underneath. The borough commander eventually apologised to him, sending a letter accepting the officers’ action was “an unlawful interference with your ... right to freedom of expression under the Human Rights Act”.

Barr’s lawyer Simon Natas, of the law firm ITN Solicitors, said: “Freedom of speech is the lifeblood of democracy and is protected by the law, even when some might find the language used offensive. My client should not have been arrested for exercising his right to free speech and he should certainly never have been prosecuted.”

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