The Caroline Farrow “Misgendering” Controversy

From the Evening Standard:

A devout Catholic and mum-of-five faces being questioned by police after being reported for using the wrong pronoun to describe a transgender girl on Twitter.

Caroline Farrow, 44, has been told police in Surrey want to conduct a “taped interview under caution” after receiving reports she had made transphobic comments online.

The 44-year-old is being investigated under the malicious communications act, and although the interview would be voluntary, she claims she could face arrest if she does not attend.

Farrow is a regular media commentator on Catholic matters; she and her husband are converts from Anglicanism, and because her husband was formerly an Anglican vicar she is now in the unusual situation of being married to a Catholic priest. I noted her intervention in the Alfie Evans case here.

The police investigation has apparently now been dropped after the accuser withdrew her complaint, but there are several points worth noting here.

First, it transpired that despite numerous headlines, the basis for the complaint was not “misgendering” (aka “confundir el sexo”, according to one report in Spanish), but rather rather the crude and polemical terms in which Farrow had described the circumstances in which a transwoman named Jackie Green, now aged 25, had transitioned in Thailand aged 16. Farrow accused Green’s mother Susie Green of “child abuse” for facilitating the operation, which was described by Farrow in reductive terms as a “castration”. These were in Tweets from October that have since been deleted, although Farrow’s Twitter archive goes back some years.

Farrow suggests that she was not made aware by police that the complaint pertained to these Tweets, rather than just “misgendering”. This explanation is not implausible: “misgendering” may have served as the easiest hook on which could peg a “hate crime”, with the Tweets to be introduced during the interview as evidence of a “hate motive”. Equally, however, the police investigating a case of “misgendering” is an easy media story that more readily fits a boilerplate narrative of “PC gone mad”.

The need to establish a motive perhaps explains Surrey Police’s statement to the media:

A thorough investigation is being carried out to establish whether any criminal offences have taken place.

A 44-year-old woman has been asked to attend a voluntary interview in relation to the allegation as part of our ongoing investigation.

This could be taken to mean that the police believe there is a case to answer, and they just wanted to give Farrow the opportunity to put her side of the story before referring the matter to the CPS – but given the paucity of progress since October I think it’s more likely that the police had insufficient evidence to proceed and were hoping that Farrow would have obliged them by saying something incriminating during the interview. This smacks of fishing.

A further point of interest here is that Farrow has more than once herself made complaints to the police about various individuals, alleging online harassment or stalking. Farrow is sometimes subjected to abuse and intrusion, but some of her complaints have been unwarranted and she has had a tendency to portray her interaction with police being a police endorsement of her claims: over the years she has stated that this person or that has been “written to by Surrey police”, or that police have taken “a detailed statement” from her.

One particularly unpleasant instance was after she asked my friend Tim Ireland to investigate the origin of a sockpuppet account that was attacking her – Tim determined that, as it were, the call was coming from inside the house, which prompted Farrow to make a stalking allegation. She was encouraged in this by Nadine Dorries MP, who wanted to revive a failed complaint of her own by involving other accusers.

On her blog, Dorries falsely accused Tim of having caused Farrow to have gone into premature labour in 2012 – Farrow’s own Tweets comprehensively disproved the allegation, but she nevertheless endorsed Dorries’ version. This required her to retcon allegations of harassment she had made against others in 2012 as instead having been due to Tim.


A commentary on the police investigation has been posted online by Barbara Hewson. Barbara argues that Green’s complaint ought to have handled as a civil matter:

Green’s route to the lawful vindication of her good name lies in a defamation action in the High Court, therefore, not via the police.

I have argued before that people should not seek to reintroduce the criminal offence of libel through the back door, by going to the police alleging “hate crime”, harassment or malicious communications. That is deeply regressive.

This is a trend that I have noted previously.