Scots Tory’s police row over ‘hate’ tweet claim

An MSP is threatening to take legal action against Police Scotland after a tweet he posted criticising the Scottish Government’s transgender policy was logged as a ‘hate incident’.

Veteran Conservative Murdo Fraser said the force had ‘behaved not just outrageously, but unlawfully’ after learning that his name appears in police files for expressing a political view.

A trans activist reported the post on X, formerly Twitter, to Police Scotland whose officers decided it did not amount to a crime but should be classed as a ‘hate incident’ which will remain on record – even though no law had been broken.

Mr Fraser, MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, is threatening legal action against the force to have the incident deleted and its hate crime policy changed, with the support of the Free Speech Union (FSU).

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser

The row comes ahead of the SNP Government’s new hate crime laws coming into force next Monday, April 1, amid fears police will be inundated with ‘baseless’ allegations. The legislation creates a new offence of ‘stirring up hatred’ on the basis of disability, race, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity and age, which for most of these categories can include ‘expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule or insult’.

Last night Mr Fraser told the Mail: ‘Police Scotland has behaved not just outrageously, but unlawfully according to the legal advice obtained by the FSU. This is Police Scotland attacking free speech but it is more sinister than that. My tweet wasn’t pointing a finger at an individual, it was critical of a Scottish Government policy. If police are now treating criticism of SNP policy as hate incidents, that is a really serious issue as it shows how Police Scotland has been captured by the SNP policy agenda.’

On November 18 last year, Mr Fraser shared a column written by Susan Dalgety for The Scotsman, which claimed the SNP Government’s non-binary equality action plan would lead to children being ‘damaged by this cult’.

Commenting on the shared post, Mr Fraser said: ‘Choosing to identify as “non-binary” is as valid as choosing to identify as a cat. I’m not sure governments should be spending time on action plans for either.’ A member of the public reported the post to Police Scotland, claiming it constituted hatred against non-binary or transgender persons.

The Mail is not disclosing the name of the complainant, who is a trans activist.

Mr Fraser said the officer who followed up determined that ‘although no crime had been committed and the police would conduct no further investigation, the perception of the complainant meant that my post would be recorded as a “hate incident”, and a reference number was provided to the complainant’.

The MSP only found out about the ‘hate incident’ because the same activist had complained to the ethical standards commissioner of the Scottish parliament about the tweet. The complaint was not taken forward but as a result of this process Mr Fraser was alerted to the police report.

A trans activist reported the post to police

A trans activist reported the post to police

On December 21, 2023, Mr Fraser wrote to Chief Constable Jo Farrell asking for a meeting to discuss the matter. The local area commander for Perth and Kinross replied on March 11 this year.

He confirmed that a ‘hate incident’ had been recorded based on the victim’s perception, that there was no associated criminal investigation, but that the incident would remain on police records ‘in line with national guidance’. 

Mr Fraser called in the FSU to back a legal challenge on the basis that Police Scotland has ‘adopted a cavalier and disrespectful attitude towards me and my rights to freedom of expression and privacy, and the right to be informed of false and damaging information held on police records’.

The MSP argues that the filing of the hate incident breaches laws including the Human Rights Act.

Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights states that everyone has the right to freedom of expression.

In his letter of complaint, Mr Fraser said the police ‘acted on the basis of a policy that is disproportionate, discriminatory, intrusive, irrational and otherwise unlawful’. He said Police Scotland must ‘permanently delete its record of the “hate incident” related to me’ by April 5.

South of the Border, officers must not record anything that is ‘trivial, malicious or irrational’.

Toby Young, founder of the FSU, said Police Scotland ‘should focus on policing actual crimes, not non-crimes’. The force said hate incidents are not recorded against alleged perpetrators – but their names appear in the files for the complainant.

A spokesman said: ‘On Monday, November 20, 2023, officers received a report of an offensive tweet. Inquiries were carried out and no criminality was established. The incident was recorded as a non-crime hate incident. Hate incidents are not recorded against alleged perpetrators.’

The Scottish Government said there are ‘protections in the new Act for individuals’ rights in respect to freedom of expression for the new stirring up hatred offences.’

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