Editor’s Notes: We shouldn't look to the police to protect us from offence

Christian May
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Grenfell Tower Fire - One Month On
Appalling footage has emerged of a group of men laughing as they burned a replica Grenfell Tower on bonfire night (Source: Getty)

One of our most popular columnists, Kate Andrews, enjoyed her latest outing on Question Time last week.

During a discussion about online abuse and freedom of speech, David Dimbleby made an unusual intervention to highlight the appalling levels of abuse that Kate suffers on social media following an appearance on the show.

“This afternoon I was shown some of the things that have been written about you appearing on this programme,” he said. “Not very nice,” said Kate. “I'd put it a different way,” said Dimbleby, “I'd say they were vile, disgusting, loathsome remarks by people hiding under a cloak of anonymity.”

To her immense and enduring credit, Kate still held the line that such abuse should not be a police matter, unless it crosses over into threats of violence. “I like to respond to it with some level of humour... as a woman, frankly, I just want to come back at them and give them a piece of my mind.”

On this, as with so many other issues, our star columnist is bang on the money. Kate might be targeted by trolls because she’s young, female, American or a passionate advocate of free-market principles. Whatever the reason may be, we can all learn from her mature, intelligent and dignified response.

The issue of free speech is never far from the headlines, with the government consulting on adding to the categories of ‘hate crime’ and police forces urging citizens to report ‘non-crime hate incidents.’

This week, appalling footage emerged of a group of men laughing as they burned a replica Grenfell Tower on bonfire night. These callous morons deserve all the condemnation and opprobrium we can muster, but the police – responding to social and political pressure – launched a hunt for them, arrested them, detained them and sent detectives to search their homes.

Having done all this, they’re only now considering whether a crime has been committed. The footage of these crass, insensitive thugs was grotesque, but we should be alarmed at the speed with which it became a police matter. A free society must include the freedom to offend and the freedom to make terrible errors of judgement. Thankfully, a free media and freedom of expression ensured that a heavy social punishment has been meted out to these idiotic individuals. Meanwhile we wait in vain for the brave copper who responds to a social media clamour for action with a simple statement: “this may be vile, but is not a police matter.”

An overstuffed inbox

A battle has been playing out on social media, marshalled by the commentator John Rentoul, who asked for any advance on 80,000 unread emails. Several came forward with six-figure examples of poor inbox management, but the undisputed winner was our own Julian Harris, deputy editor of City A.M., who revelled in a staggering 372,447 unread items. My deputy and I are chalk and cheese: I’m uncomfortable with more than 20 unread items and so either read or delete everything. More deleting than reading, it must be said, but I honestly don’t know how Julian sleeps at night.

Finally, a routine routine

A fashionable genre of business and celebrity news is the old “tell us about your daily routine” question, which often offers up such gems as “I rise at 4am for pre-dawn yoga before blending a charcoal and moss smoothie...” It was refreshing, therefore, to read the answer Amazon’s Jeff Bezos gave to this question. “I like to read the newspaper, I like to have coffee, I like to have breakfast with my kids before they go to school,” Bezos explained, adding “I set my first meeting for 10am... By 5pm I'm like, I can't think about this today, let's try that again tomorrow.” Oh, to be a billionaire