A Radio 5 listener reported him to the Police and he was subsequently arrested, then released yesterday on bail. The Daily Mail reports Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's reaction...
Mrs Alibhai-Brown said the barrister’s behaviour was ‘crazy’ in the light of the recent conviction for attempted murder of Muslim student Roshonara Choudhary for stabbing MP Stephen Timms.
The journalist, who has written for the Daily Mail, said she regarded the comments as incitement to murder and added that the reference to stoning inferred that they were racially motivated. She pledged to support any prosecution and said the matter had upset her teenage
She said: ‘I don’t use Twitter but my daughter does . . . she had seen the message, but she kept it from me so as not to alarm me. It has really scared us. You just don’t do things like this. It’s incitement.’
I would argue that all parties have severely overreacted here, and all been very unwise. Mr Compton's tweet was ill considered and stupid. The wording suggests that it was not meant to be taken seriously, but knowing how easily words can be misinterpreted on the internet, it was an idiotic thing for an elected politician to write. We all have to realise that what we say or write can have consequences.
But the reaction of the Police has been over the top too. Did this really warrant an arrest, when it must have been clear from talking to Mr Compton that the tweet was not meant seriously? Wouldn't a quiet word ending up with 'make sure you don't do it again' been sufficient?
And it is also arguable that Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's reaction has been (some would say typically) over the top too. However, in this case I think we need to understand the reason for her reaction. As readers know, I know her quite well. On countless occasions over the last eight years she has told me of the abuse she suffers on the internet and she finds it incredibly upsetting. She regularly receives what appear to be serious threats to kill or maim her or her family.
Guido's view seems to be that this is the sort of thing you just have to accept if you put your head above the parapet of public life. I agree with him to the extent that we all have to put up with unwarranted abuse, but when it comes to threatening lives I think we all need to draw a line. I've gone to the police on only one occasion, not because I felt my life was being threatened, but because of a persistent case of what I felt to be stalking, which culminated in series of 40 phone calls in one evening and a use of the phrase "I know where you live" or something similar. We all reach a point where we think 'enough is enough' and I don't blame Yasmin for reacting in the way she did, even if the rest of us can see that the culprit didn't actually mean what he was saying. Those of us who have been there can empathise in a way that no one who hasn't been on the receiving end of sustained threats can.
This case is similar to that of Paul Chambers who lost his appeal yesterday. He had been convicted of “menace” after tweeting about blowing up an airport - “Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!” Again, the legal reaction could be said to be completely OTT, but it again provides a real lesson to us all.
Words have consequences.
UPDATE: Tom Harris is less than impressed by Yasmin's arguments.