Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has criticised the 4-month sentence handed down to Barry Thew, who has been jailed for wearing an offensive t-shirt in the direct aftermath of the deaths of PCs Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes.
The court heard that Thew wore a t-shirt in Radcliffe town centre featuring the words “One less pig; perfect justice,” and “Killacopforfun.com haha?”
In response, Mr Tatchell said: “Barry Thew’s t-shirt was offensive but in a free society the public should have the right to criticise – and even insult – the police. His four month jail sentence is unreasonable. No one should be jailed for a mere insult”.
Mr Tatchell is currently engaged in a campaign to reform Section 5 of the Public Order Act.
In a rare show of unity, several Christian anti-gay activists have jointly called with Mr Tatchell for the government to change the law – in the past the Act has been used by lawyers to curb the protests of homophobic religious preachers along with gay rights campaigners.
Mr Tatchell added: “Mr Thew sounds an unpleasant character, with a long criminal history. It was insensitive and distressing for him to wear his anti-police t-shirt on that day.
“I empathise with the loved ones of the officers who were killed. However, four months in prison is excessive for offensive, insulting words.
“The price of free speech is that we sometimes have to put up with views we find offensive.
“Insults are not nice and I would discourage them. But they should not be crimes”.
Mr Tatchell also claims that Thew had been treated severely because he had targeted the police:
“I suspect Barry Thew would not have been sent to prison if he had insulted someone other than the police. He said his t-shirt had nothing to do with the slain Manchester police officers. It concerned other personal grievances that he has with the police.
Mr Tatchell added: “There is no evidence that his t-shirt was directed at the officers who were murdered. He claims he was already wearing the t-shirt before the officers’ deaths became publicly known.
“An additional mitigating factor is his mental health issues, which may have affected his judgement about the wording and wearing of the t-shirt”.
Earlier, Inspector Bryn Williams of Greater Manchester Police welcomed the conviction of Thew, saying: “To mock or joke about the tragic events of that morning is morally reprehensible and Thew has rightly been convicted and sentenced for his actions.”