Sunday, March 02, 2014

UK: Dangerous to debate new supermarket developments

Police might survey your comments for "harassment"

There’s nothing like the prospect of a new Tesco store to inspire a little healthy – and often heated – debate in a community.

However, things took a downright sinister turn in one town after locals had their say online.

Comments made on a blog run by one Tory councillor and on the Facebook page of another have been the subject of a criminal investigation.

Police even questioned a third councillor who merely ‘liked’ a post – the act of clicking a thumbs up icon to show approval.

Now senior officers have warned the three men they could be prosecuted for harassment over their involvement in  the debate.

One councillor accused Kent Police of acting like ‘North Korea’ and said their behaviour could stifle legitimate debate over other controversial proposals.

The inquiry was prompted after a bed and breakfast owner accused the men of targeting her over her outspoken opposition to the supermarket in Margate, Kent.

Now councillor Dr Simon Moores, who was interviewed over comments made by third parties on his Thanet Life blog, is worried he will end up with a criminal record.

‘My fear is if members of the public start using criminal law to go after councillors because they disagree with something – then what is the point of public service?’ he said.

‘It is very Orwellian. Frankly it is like something out of North Korea because the police have yet to come to grips with social media.

‘There is the danger of veering on the heavy side when dealing with a complaint and not being able to clearly define where the law stands.’

The saga over the 82,000sq ft supermarket, a stone’s throw from the seafront, dates back several years.

The ‘yes’ campaign say it will bring jobs and revitalise the area, while those in the ‘no’ camp said it will damage the town’s revival and high street stores.

Progress came to a halt after an appeal was lodged at the High Court against a green light given by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles last year.

Entrepreneur Louise Oldfield, who also runs a B&B, complained she was being harassed over her persistent opposition to the plans.

She claimed she was the victim of online comments, some of which were made using pseudonyms.

Police visited Dr Moores, former Margate mayor Mick Tomlinson and a third councillor and interviewed them all under caution on suspicion of harassment.

They examined comments posted by third parties on Dr Moores’s blog.

These included claims Miss Oldfield had been ‘blinkered’ and referred to her ‘humiliating’ defeat after she stood as an independent in a county council election.

Police also looked at the Facebook pages of Mr Tomlinson, on which he suggested Miss Oldfield exaggerated the size and position of the supermarket.

The third councillor, who has not been identified, was questioned after he ‘liked’ Mr Tomlinson’s post.

Dr Moores, a computer expert who has advised the National Crime Agency, said the inquiry is a ‘huge waste of police time and money’.

He said two inspectors have been assigned to the case and suggested a victim of robbery or assault was unlikely to receive similar attention.

A Kent Police spokesman said: ‘We are undertaking an inquiry into a claim of harassment and while that is ongoing we will not be making any further comment.’



Anonymous said...

God damn but the UK has gone insane.

Anonymous said...

The source was the Daily Mail newspaper which is always so negative in that way, despite the basis of some truth. I doubt the UK is more insane than the US and probably less so to judge from news and media reporting in the US

stinky said...

The trend seems to be for the police to pick "safe targets" for their actions, regardless of innocence, guilt or import.

Anonymous said...

Announcing that "I'm offended" is basically telling the world you cannot control you own emotions, so everyone else should do it for you!