A EUROPEAN MP is claiming the arrest of a candidate standing against him in the up and coming elections was the sort of “political arrest” usually seen in oppressive regimes.
South East MEP Daniel Hannan says while he believes Liberty GB candidate Paul Weston’s comments were rude, arresting him on suspicion of religious and racial harassment was “a disproportionate act of policing”.
During a speech through a megaphone, Mr Weston had been reading a Winston Churchill quote describing Islam as “militant” and “retrograde” outside Winchester’s Guildhall last Saturday afternoon.
Standing on the steps of the Guildhall, he addressed passers-by with an excerpt from former Prime Minister Churchill’s book The River War, written in 1899 while he was a British Army officer in the Sudan.
Police were then called after complaints from members of the public, and the 50-year-old, from Dorset, was told to disperse but failed to do so. But while Tory Mr Hannan believes his opponent’s comments were “unpleasant” and “deliberately provocative”, they were not breaking the law and arresting him was undemocratic.
He said: “In retrospect it was a disproportionate act of policing. I did not think I lived in a country where a candidate for public office could be arrested at a husting because someone objected to what he said.
“It is far from clear to me what law was broken here. It was bad manners, but that is not the same as being against the law.
“I am not sticking up for Mr Weston, but the principle that a candidate in a democracy should be allowed to say whatever he wants.”
Mr Hannan is now calling on Hampshire’s police commissioner Simon Hayes, as an elected leader of the police, to make his position on the arrest clear. He said: “I think there is a real question of whether or not taxpayers in Hampshire want their police to be focusing on this kind of thing or catching criminals?”
Mr Hayes said people have the right to debate in public, but said there needed to be a “level of decorum and decency”.
He said: “Hampshire Constabulary has an obligation to ensure action is taken if decency or safety is put at risk and, if there is any reason to suspect they have intervened unnecessary, this will be investigated.”
Mr Hayes added he understood that Mr Weston was not specifically arrested for reciting the Churchill quotes. Mr Weston is one of three Liberty GB candidates standing to represent the South East as MEPs.
His party’s six-point manifesto argues for a “rejection of the notion of Britain as a global no-man’s land upon which any of the world’s teeming millions may lay claim” and the upholding of “Christian ethics and Western civilization”.