Sussex Police under fire over free speech

SUSSEX Police has been accused of threatening the principle of parliamentary free speech by sending a notice to an MP warning him not to harass a constituent.

East Worthing and Shoreham MP Tim Loughton said the police information notice (PIN) was issued by the Sussex force after he sent Kieran Francis a copy of Hansard – the record of parliamentary proceedings –containing a speech he made to the House of Commons about a dispute between them.

At the Commons privileges committee, Sussex Police chief constable Martin Richards and his former assistant chief constable Robin Merrett apologised for the wording of the notice and for failings in their understanding of parliamentary privilege, but insisted they stood by the decision to issue it. Mr Richards made clear he had not apologised to the MP himself.

Mr Loughton told the committee that after years of abuse, both face-to-face and on the internet, he decided last March to tell the Commons he was ‘sacking Mr Francis as my constituent’.

Sussex Police – which had previously investigated allegations of racial hate crime made by Mr Francis against the MP – received a complaint that this mailing caused him ‘distress’, and sent Mr Loughton a PIN, warning that his constituent saw it as part of a campaign of ‘collective harassment’ and any further behaviour of this kind could leave him liable to prosecution.