Northumbria Police in Controversy Over Threat to Anti-Islam Activist’s University Place

A statement from Northumbria Police, published on Twitter:

Chief Superintendent Neil Hutchinson said: “Northumbria Police is aware of concerns on social media around messages sent by a Northumbria Police officer. These email messages have been linked to a tweet posted by the recipient of the emails.

“We wish to make it clear that the email messages sent by the officer were in relation to an on-going investigation which is not connected in anyway [sic] to the tweets. It is disappointing that the officer’s action in sending these messages has been misrepresented as linked to the tweet when they refer to a completely unrelated matter…”

The statement was issued in response to complaints on social media that the officer who had sent the emails had acted improperly, and that he had done so because he is a Muslim and the recipient, one Jonaya English, is a non-Muslim who Tweets criticism of Islam. Commentary along these lines has been posted online by the likes of Katie Hopkins, Paul Joseph Watson, Tommy Robinson, and Robinson’s employer Ezra Levant, who has apparently offered English work with his alt-right RebelTV social media platform.

English has published the emails, from PC Mohammed Khan. Khan is university liaison officer at Newcastle University, where English currently has an offer of a place. In the first email, Khan said that he had “received information which I need to speak to you about”, and in the second he added that

If you fail to engage, I will be informing Newcastle University that in order to apply sufficient safeguarding measures my only option is asking Newcastle University to withdraw their offer to you.

It is in your interests to engage with me.

English says that the Northumbria Police statement is a “lie”, and she asserts that Khan’s emails concern a Tweet she had posted to the effect that most terrorist attacks are by Muslims, who have learnt to act this way from the Quran. She posted this Tweet in reply to a Tweet from the Council of Europe about the attack on Finsbury Park Mosque.

Whatever the investigation is actually about, no-one is obliged to “engage” with the police about “information” received unless they are arrested, and even then they do not have to cooperate. Police investigations often mean building a case for the prosecution rather than assessing the evidence in the round (as I discussed here) – and in this instance, it appears that the officer has already fully identified with the complainant. Attempting to pressurize someone into communicating with the police by threatening to use influence with a third party to employ a sanction looks very much like the disciplinary offence of oppressive conduct. One also wonders why Khan was so keen to “speak” to her but apparently so unwilling to put any substantive details in writing.

English believes that the complainant is a young Muslim woman whose own Twitter handle appeared in the Council of Europe Tweet. According to English, she and this woman have a history of mutual animosity that goes back to their schooldays in the same sixth form – and presumably this context is how English has inferred what the complaint is about, despite Khan’s paucity of information. English also says that the complainant called the Tweet “harassing and bigoted”.

This background raises the possibility that the complaint pertains to “unwanted contact” on Twitter as well as to the actual content of the Tweet (if that is indeed what this is all about). But this is what the Block button is for, and it is difficult to see how the police can intervene when both parties are activists have who chosen to contribute in a public forum about matters of public interest. If there is some exceptional reason why the complainant might reasonably have inferred a harassing subtext aimed at her personally, this needs to be established by a legal process before Khan starts making recommendations to the university.

On Twitter, the alleged complainant has protected her account and changed her Twitter name; English has made a point of highlighting her new Twitter name, which does not seem to me to serve any purpose other than to encourage supporters to pile on. She also accuses the complainant of having harassed her in the past, and she makes claims of a private and personal nature that in my judgement are spiteful and gratuitous.

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