Civil Liberties

My T-Shirt Went to Peterborough and All I Got Was an £80 Fine


The BBC's "WHO, WHAT, WHY?" magazine section brings us the story of Mr. Pratt, of Peterborough, England, fined for his "offensive" t-shirt:

He thought it was a bit of a laugh, but Peterborough City Council failed to see the funny side of David Pratt's T-shirt. He has been threatened with a £80 penalty notice after wearing a top with the slogan: "Don't piss me off! I am running out of places to hide the bodies." After an official complaint was made to the council, street wardens told Mr Pratt his T-shirt could cause offence or incite violence. He faces an on-the-spot fine from the police if he wears it again.

And he's not the only one. The article goes on to list a bunch of objects that were censored by police, mostly after complaints by nosy members of the public: A toddler's t-shirt with the word "sperm" on it; a pub sign featuring the word "faggot;" and an fcuk (French Connection U.K.) t-shirt picturing a copulating couple:

Using threatening, abusive, or insulting language is a criminal offence under Section 5 of the Public Order Act, even if it's printed on a T-shirt. This applies in England and Wales, in Scotland such an incident would be classed as breach of the peace, says the Law Society of Scotland.

It is not necessary for someone to have made an official complaint for the police to act, they just have to think it might offend a hypothetical third party, says criminal solicitor Louise Christian.