Censorship

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

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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.

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  1. […] they just have to think it might offend a hypothetical third party […]

    I think this is what they call a “blank check.”

  2. Actually, I think ANYTHING with the “FCUK” label would fit the “might offend” requirement… whether it shows a couple copulating or not. Just the “FCUK”….

    So far today, we’ve got Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Who cares. Piss me off about something in the good ol’ U.S. of A. I know you will.

    CB

  3. Between this and the Queen knighting Sir Ahmed Salman Rushdie, I’m starting to think a constitutional monarchy is a good was to preserve freedoms. It can add yet one more check and balance.

  4. I’d go meta on their asses and change the shirt to “If this shirt said ‘Don’t piss me off! I am running out of places to hide the bodies.’ would you fine me?”

  5. So far today, we’ve got Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Who cares. Piss me off about something in the good ol’ U.S. of A. I know you will.

    What about Che t-shirts? Are they game?

    Unfortunately, Europe seems to be the beta test for just about every bad idea to import over the pond. Just give it time, they’ll be fining everyone on the Atlantic boardwalk.

  6. It would be really ironic if the guy actually did turn out to be a mass murderer and was wearing the shirt as a legitimate warning to others. I think at that point they’d have to drop the offensive shirt charge.

  7. Peterborough is the home of Thomas the Tank Engine so I’m not too surprised they would be fussy about barring the unwholesome (This is an explanation, not a defense.) It is a pleasant little town but it does seem to have suffered the fate of much of the UK.

    As for the FCUK line of products, they are in every drug store in England and I wish they would market them here. Aside from the joy of seeing American prigs having a seizure, they make a menthol body wash that wakes one up like a strong cup of coffee. (which is hard find there so they need it)

  8. Eryk:

    You can get FCUK in Toronto. On Bloor street, between University Ave. and Younge St. 😉

  9. I’d go meta on their asses and change the shirt to “If this shirt said ‘Don’t piss me off! I am running out of places to hide the bodies.’ would you fine me?”

    I’d go meta and then throw in a little material implication: “Is it the case that either my shirt does not say ‘Don’t piss me off! I am running out of places to hide the bodies’ or you will fine me?”

  10. JW wrote, “Unfortunately, Europe seems to be the beta test for just about every bad idea to import over the pond.”

    This never ceases to … er … piss me off. We fought a war of independence so that Americans could live in America and do things their own way, but then we turn right around almost immediately, and start up the pressure to act just like all of the other nations. Said pressure has become particularly acute in the most recent few decades.

    It reminds me of teenagers, who rebel against their parents, only to embrace the “individuality” of looking or acting like every other participant in the trends and fads de jour.

    I’m not saying that foreigners, Europeans especially, cannot have good ideas and get things right once in a while. But it is a profoundly wrong thing to point to the “experience” of other nations and suggest that we should pattern our own accordingly, just because their approaches seem to “work.” The things their societies and governments do — and get away with — are based on a fundamentally different set of assumptions about the individual’s relationship to the government, and the government’s relationship to the people. The more we act like all the other nations, the more we must abandon our fundamental assumptions, or at least contort them to a point that would sadden and confuse those who fought and died for American liberty down through the years.

    We face many problems that other nations also face. But our solutions need to be uniquely American in order for us to preserve and enrich our legacy of liberty. As we adopt more and more approaches that were born in more authoritarian states (or seemingly benign states that are nevertheless founded on authoritarian assumptions), we can’t help but become more authoritarian, too. So let’s knock it off, already!

    But assuming that people WON’T knock it off, then tell me, which is the better response to the foolishness: getting pissed (British), or getting pissed (American)? If we don’t respond at all, of course, we’ll all be pissed ON.

  11. Cracker’s Boy
    So far today, we’ve got Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Who cares.

    I care! I’m moving to the UK in a month!

  12. Hold the phones. This is the same country (local council sphere of influence not withstanding) that allowed all those angry Islamic post cartoon loons to freely parade about with such gems as “behead those who insult Islam” untouched!

    The same country whose Police force had to be pressurised by the right leaning media into arresting an Islamic protester who dressed up as suicide bomber on another occasion.

    Said T-Shirt owner should try the “taken out of context” plea, seemed to work fine for the targets of C4’s under cover mosque.

  13. If I lived in England, I am certain that I would be offended by all the yobs running around in ManU, Arse, Chelski, etc. shirts. The only unoffensive footie shirt involves my beloved Everton.

  14. “Chelski” very good, took me a minute to get that.

  15. WalterBoswell
    Hold the phones. This is the same country (local council sphere of influence not withstanding) that allowed all those angry Islamic post cartoon loons to freely parade about with such gems as “behead those who insult Islam” untouched!

    The same country whose Police force had to be pressurised by the right leaning media into arresting an Islamic protester who dressed up as suicide bomber on another occasion.

    Said T-Shirt owner should try the “taken out of context” plea, seemed to work fine for the targets of C4’s under cover mosque.

    You seem to be upset that the government didn’t restrict speech in those cases. Is that what you’re implying, or am I reading that wrong?

  16. brian sez : You seem to be upset that the government didn’t restrict speech in those cases. Is that what you’re implying, or am I reading that wrong?

    Golly gosh no, I’d just like to see some frickin equality across the board.

  17. WalterBoswell, brian:

    You seem to be upset that the government didn’t restrict speech in those cases. Is that what you’re implying, or am I reading that wrong?

    I think that is the implication.

    I wonder, walterBoswell, should Tom Tancredo be a politician in England, should he banned/penalized for suggesting to bomb Muslim holy places?

  18. Rule Britannia! The pre-eminent Western nanny state!

  19. WalterBoswell:

    Golly gosh no, I’d just like to see some frickin equality across the board.

    Then what I think is needed is unrestricted freedom of speech, but as civilized people we need (as a matter of free choice, not through draconian laws) to respect the sensibilities of others.

  20. Britain has long had an oppressive nanny state, though I suppose it often took the form of unofficially cracking the heads of the “wrong sort of people.”

    To those of my ancestors who left Great Britain, I say thank you.

  21. iih said : Then what I think is needed is unrestricted freedom of speech, but as civilized people we need (as a matter of free choice, not through draconian laws) to respect the sensibilities of others.

    That’ll always be the dream. But what was that eugenic espousing Irish dramatist once said:

    “Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.”

  22. WalterBoswell:

    Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.

    Very true indeed. I really like that quote. Who said it?

    I think it is exactly what this quote describes is the reason why non-interventionist Libertarianism is not as popular as it should be here in the US. It is all about fear of responsibility, and even replacing that fear with fictitious ones (not that I am saying the threat of terrorism is fictitious, but it is very overrated, and is the current reason why we are farther away from a truly libertarian society.)

  23. George Bernard Shaw. He wanted to sterilize the poor. But stopped clocks telling the right time and all that.

  24. WalterBoswell:

    aaah… yes… GBS indeed! Thanks for the great quote. (From a Muslim who does not march angrily in the street screaming “Death to….” 🙂 )

  25. James Anderson Merrit,

    Very good points. I can already hear the Hillarys of the future whining about how we’re the only industrialized country that doesn’t have a law against offensive T-shirts. 😉

    I just want to shout back that 230 years ago, we were the only Western country without a monarch…

  26. crimethink:

    Correction: San Marino has been a republic since the third century.

  27. Free speech for all is best. Equality under the law is also important. If officials only respect freedoms when they fear violence, it encourages people to become violent.

  28. Eryk Boston and iih:

    There is also an FCUK in Las Vegas, at the Aladdin casino. (Well, it’s now the Planet Hollywood, but “Aladdin” might be more familiar to you.)

  29. iih,

    OK, then we were the only Western country larger than a few square miles that didn’t have a monarch…

  30. crimethink:

    haha!

  31. It’s stories like this that serve a reminder at just how important our 1st Amendment really is.

    Even in it’s excessively watered-down state

  32. crimethink,

    Would Switzerland also meet that criteria?

  33. Damn you people and your counterexamples! 😉

  34. Hey, I bet those snarky Brits who just went on that crime spree in the U.S., breaking inane state laws and then writing a book about it all…I bet those guys are all over this one for sure.

    Or, maybe not.

    Pussies.

  35. I thought fashion police was just a figure of speech. If we are going to arrest people for stupid t-shirts, then 90% of the population of Osaka will have to go to jail.

  36. Also Iceland.

  37. Mrs Alex Rodriguez went to a baseball game with “F— you.” written on the back of it.
    A reporter tried the same thing and was asked to leave the game.
    Fashion policing is just a thing edge of a wedge next thing you know people will be having a go at Sarah Palin for something the Democrats had already done.

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