A police force in Merseyside, England was forced to apologise after officers paraded around a local car park with a van emblazoned with an electronic billboard that read "Being Offensive is an Offence" during a so-called "hate crime awareness event".
On Saturday, the Twitter account for the police force in Wirral posted images of the officers in a supermarket parking lot, saying: "lots of positive discussion was had with the essential shoppers and together we will defeat hate in our community."
The force was widely mocked for the post, as many pointed out that being offensive is not actually a crime under British law, but for most campaigning and leafletting is - due to coronavirus lockdown laws - ultimately forcing the police to delete the tweet and issue a correction.
In response to the initial post, Silkie Carlo, the director of the civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch said: "I would like to report a crime. This is a demonstration and you keep telling us they're banned. You won't let electoral candidates and the public, or even me and my mum, have ‘lots of positive discussion' and I'm afraid these rules are universal."
Brexit leader Nigel Farage quipped: "Are there no problems with gun or knife crime in Merseyside then?"
London Assembly Member Peter Whittle wrote: "Here are the Thought Police. So appalling is this you'd be forgiven for thinking it's a mock-up for some dystopian drama. But no, it's Merseyside Police pictured outside an Asda. Even the demeanour of these four cops speaks volumes."
In a statement on Monday, Superintendent Martin Earl said: "We would like to clarify that ‘being offensive' is not in itself an offence.
"A message on an advan and social media this weekend by the Local Policing Team on the Wirral [account] to encourage people to report hate crime although well-intentioned was incorrect and we apologise for any confusion this may have caused.
"Hate crime is an offence and will not be tolerated. Hate crime can come in various guises that can include assault, criminal damage, verbal and written online abuse."
Marking what is termed in Britain LGBT+ History Month, the Merseyside Police Force said on its website: "It's important everyone understands the legacy of discrimination and abuse faced by the LGTB+ community and learns from history, to make sure we do better today."
"Throughout the month, we will be sharing stories from some of our LGBT+ network members and allies to support learning and to inspire and empower others," the force added.
The campaign against so-called hate speech in Britain has seen police record some 120,000 ‘non-crime hate incidents‘ in criminal databases, meaning that despite committing no actual offence it will still visible on a person's criminal background check.
Police forces have also previously called upon the British public to snitch on their fellow citizens for "things like offensive or insulting comments, online, in person or in writing".
The Reclaim Party, launched by free speech advocate and prominent British actor Laurence Fox, called on the Home Office to investigate the police force for the sign.
"Offensive: causing someone to feel resentful, upset, or annoyed," the party wrote on social media, going on to quote George Orwell, who said: "If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people things they do not want to hear".
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