Police officer’s ‘transphobic’ tweets were lawful, high court rules in landmark case

Police guidelines in Britain over trans hate are being challenged by former officer Harry Miller. (Screen capture via YouTube)

Ex-police officer Harry Miller, who was taken to court over alleged ‘transphobic’ tweets, has won a partial victory after the High Court ruled his actions were lawful.

He also launched a wider challenge against the lawfulness of College of Policing guidelines on hate crimes, which was rejected.

For a number of years Harry Miller, 54, used the Twitter account @HarryTheOwl – which has since been suspended – to tweet “extensively” about proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act.

In one offensive tweet he wrote: “I was assigned mammal at birth, but my orientation is fish. Don’t mis-species me. F**kers.”

A member of the public filed a complaint about Miller’s social media activity, which led to Humberside Police contacting him over the phone and visiting his workplace. An officer told him that he hadn’t committed a crime but that his tweeting was being recorded as a “hate incident”.

In response Miller launched legal action against the College of Policing, the professional body for the police in England and Wales.

At a hearing in November, Miller’s barrister argued that the police had sought to “dissuade [Miller] from expressing himself on such issues in the future”, which he said was “contrary to his fundamental right to freedom of expression”.

Announcing the court’s decision on February 14, Justice Julian Knowles said: “The claimant’s tweets were lawful and that there was not the slightest risk that he would commit a criminal offence by continuing to tweet.

“I find the combination of the police visiting the claimant’s place of work, and their subsequent statements in relation to the possibility of prosecution, were a disproportionate interference with the claimant’s right to freedom of expression because of their potential chilling effect.”

He concluded that the police response led Miller to believe that he was being warned “not to exercise his right to freedom of expression”, and that he was being threatened with criminal prosecution if he persisted.

Fears Harry Miller ruling could lead to ‘open season’ on trans people.

Speaking after the ruling, Miller said: “This is a watershed moment for liberty – the police were wrong to visit my workplace, wrong to ‘check my thinking’.”

The case prompted him to found the campaign group Fair Cop, which challenges what it believes are attempts to criminalise people for expressing opinions that do not contravene any laws. All the case studies listed on their website relate to transgender issues.

Responding to the ruling, Helen Belcher, who co-founded Trans Media Watch, told the BBC: “I think trans people will be worried it could become open season on us because the court didn’t really define what the threshold for acceptable speech was.

“I think it will reinforce an opinion that courts don’t understand trans lives and aren’t there to protect trans people.”