Civil Liberties

Why isn't Richard Dawkins prosecuted under the Malicious Communications Act?


Ursula Presgrave (left) posted on Facebook: “Anyone born with down syndrome should be put down, it’s just cruel to let them lead a pointless life of a vegetable.” For this was dragged into court where she pleaded guilty to an offence under the Malicious Communications Act; specifically that of sending an electronic communication with intent to cause distress or anxiety. She now faces a maximum sentence of six months in jail or a £5,000 fine.

Richard Dawkins (right) tweeted that babies with Down’s syndrome should be aborted: “It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.” For this he wasn’t dragged into court because he was deemed to have committed no offence under any act.

And yet offence was mainfestly caused, so much so that Richard Dawkins issued an (unprecedented?) apology. There is unequivocal parity of offence caused both to people with Down’s syndrome and their families, who invariably view them as real people with real feelings who can lead very happy lives. But, for Ursula Presgrave, their existence is “pointless”, and for Richard Dawkins it is “immoral”. Who determines that some causes of offence are criminal, while others are permissible?

Why is Ursula Presgrave’s Facebook post considered “vile”, “sick”, and “attention-seeking”, while Richard Dawkins’ tweet is considered by many to be scientifically enlightened and intelligent? Apparently, Presgrave was arrested “after police also found photos joking about the disabled”. Why is it a crime to joke about the disabled but not to advocate their mass extermination on the grounds of social morality or economic expediency? Where is the greater ‘hate’? Why is it a “malicious communication” to post on Facebook that people with Down’s “should be put down”, but not to tweet that people with Down’s should never be allowed to be breathe at all?

According to the Mail‘s account, the first question Ursula Presgrave was asked by police was whether she knew that she had committed a criminal offence, to which she allegedly responded: “Yes, and I am very sorry about it.”

Have the police ever interviewed Richard Dawkins under caution? Have they ever put to him that his views about the disabled might be considered malicious?

And what about his views on Islam? Are they not “indecent or grossly offensive” to Muslims? Might they not cause “distress or anxiety” to those who follow the path of Allah and the precepts of Mohammed? Why is Pastor James McConnell being dragged through the courts for “improper use of electronic communications network” (ie streaming a sermon via the internet in which he said that Islam is ‘satanic’), while Richard Dawkins can tweet about the evils of Islam and intellectual deficiencies of Muslims with seeming impunity?

Why do we prosecute tattoos, piercings and foul language, but not the highbrow Oxford intellect? Don’t thick morons already suffer a congenital disadvantage?