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‘Perfectly lawful’ to stir up racial and religious hatred, Met Police chief says

Sir Mark Rowley highlighted the loophole as an example of an ‘outrageous’ gap in hate crime law when discussing policing of protests in London.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley

The country’s most senior police officer has called for “outrageous” gaps in hate crime law, which he said allows people to lawfully stir up racial and religious hatred, to be closed.

Sir Mark Rowley, who leads the Metropolitan Police, said it was “outrageous” that people could stir hatred if they “avoid being threatening or abusive”.

The Met has faced controversy over its policing of hate crimes and protests in London surrounding the Israel-Hamas conflict, with Sir Mark facing calls to resign.

The force has come under pressure from senior Conservatives, including former home secretary Suella Braverman, and campaign groups to ban large pro-Palestinian demonstrations – something the police chief said was not possible as the legal threshold for a ban had not been met.

Sir Mark, who was discussing the challenges of policing the protests on the latest episode of the A Muslim and a Jew Go There podcast, was asked by co-host Baroness Sayeeda Warsi how police would respond if “a Jewish person used the Y-word, or if I use the P-word, or a black person used the N-word, or if an Asian person used the C-word, coconut”.

The police chief said that he was “quite struck with some of the sort of gaps in hate crime laws” when he worked on an extremism report before rejoining the Met as Commissioner.

He said: “There are some things that are quite startling.

“It is perfectly lawful at the moment to intentionally stir up racial and religious hatred as long as you avoid being threatening or abusive.”

Co-host, comedian and screenwriter David Baddiel said: “But that seems impossible?”

Former home secretary Suella Braverman arrives at BBC Broadcasting House in London, to appear on the BBC One current affairs programme, Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg
The force has come under pressure from senior Conservatives, including former home secretary Suella Braverman, to ban large pro-Palestinian demonstrations (Victoria Jones/PA)

To which Sir Mark responded: “It’s outrageous isn’t it.”

When asked for an example, he said: “Some of the sort of faux-intellectual arguments that go to global Jewish conspiracies, grand (great) replacement theory, if you look at someone who’s churning that stuff out – it’s hard to come to any conclusion other than their intent but actually because it’s not done in a threatening or abusive context they sort of somehow side-step it.”

The great replacement theory is an antisemitic conspiracy theory that alleges Jews are leading efforts to replace white people in majority white countries with people of other ethnicities.

He added: “I think there are, like I said, some gaps in extremism, in hate crime legislation, in terrorism legislation that create some cracks for this behaviour to exist when it ought to be illegal.

“If you are setting out with an intent to stir up racial and religious hatred full stop, if we can prove the intent, that ought to be illegal.

“It’s not, unless you can prove some other things, at the moment.”

The Met Police website currently defines a hate crime as: “Any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a person’s race or perceived race; religion or perceived religion; sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation; disability or perceived disability and any crime motivated by hostility or prejudice against a person who is transgender or perceived to be transgender.”

Sir Mark has previously said he would support a review into the legal definition of extremism and how it should be policed following criticism over the force’s handling of recent pro-Palestinian protests in London.

Explaining the legislation surrounding demonstrations, the Commissioner told the podcast: “So, basically a gathering, there is no power to ban a protest gathering whatsoever.

“A march, so a moving gathering, there is a power in extremis to ban but we’re nowhere near that threshold.

He continued: “If you listen to public rhetoric, you’d think we have the power to vanish this away, even if that was a good idea, which we don’t.”

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