To be honest, it would be stretching it a bit to say that a blog described as “distasteful” by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre actually has police “approval”. A recent official statement from the quango, which has police powers and functions, is sponsored by the British Home Office, and is set to become part of a new National Crime Agency later this year, has however confirmed that the blog has been inspected and not found to be in breach of any laws.
The statement was issued in response to a complaint about Heretic TOC by a certain Dr Liz Davies, whose (WordPress) blog website describes her as “a registered social worker who, following a career in frontline child protection social work, is now a Reader in Child Protection at London Metropolitan University. Oddly, her site has a “Gallery”, which is the sort of feature you might expect to see at a porn site (or so I am told!) Sure enough, be warned, the photos exhibited here are very heavy indeed – way too scary and sickening for all but the strongest stomachs. Entirely legal, though: no kids.
Dr Davies says her specialism is “the investigation of child abuse and the investigative interviewing of children, particularly in the context of organised and institutional abuse”. Awarded her PhD as recently as 2010, she is becoming quite a high-profile figure. Tom Watson MP said he relied heavily on her work and advice in his published response to Jon Henley’s Guardian article on paedophilia, covered here early last month (in Finally, a word in edgeways at the Guardian! and It’s all kicked off in the British media ). Aspiring to be an “organised and institutional abuse” crime buster, perhaps Davies sees Heretic TOC as fair game in this light. But why? She says she reported Heretic TOC to CEOP but gives very little indication as to why she felt police action was needed. It would seem there is no distinction in her eyes between, on the one hand, expressing the view that the laws relating to adult-child sex need reforming and, on the other, breaking those laws or inciting people to break them. To the censorious mind it is doubtless all one and the same: “promoting paedophilia”.
Which leaves me wondering, whatever happened to education? Has this woman never, at school or since, learned the principles of free expression and the democratic process?
CEOP’s response to her complaint, which she reproduces on her blog, apparently in full, is mercifully somewhat more sophisticated. Attributed to a CEOP Intelligence Officer, the message quotes a report on Heretic TOC from the Internet Watch Foundation indicating that no abuse images had been found at the site, so the IWF felt unable to act. The Intelligence Officer then adds on behalf of CEOP, “Furthermore, the content of what Tom O’Carroll is writing does not constitute as an offence, he is stating his opinion, and although distasteful he is entitled to free speech. Therefore CEOP will unfortunately be unable to take any further action.”
For a public body which exists to uphold the law rather than to moralise, CEOP here exercises considerable freedom of speech for its own views: Heretic TOC is considered “distasteful”, and it is “unfortunate” that no action can be taken. But at least, unlike Dr Davies, CEOP has clearly accepted that free speech is not just for popular opinions. So, bravo: credit where it is due.
I still think they need to take one further civics lesson, though. The Intelligence Officer grudgingly refers to my freedom of speech as though allowing heretics to have their say is really just another tiresome example of “political correctness gone mad”. Instead of thinking of my freedom of speech CEOP should try thinking in terms of everyone’s freedom of access to information and argument from every shade of opinion and standpoint. When any voice is silenced by censorship the right of the entire community to hear that voice is forfeited.
They should try reading J.S. Mill’s classic text On Liberty, in which the Victorian philosopher advocated an open market in opinion, from which the “buyer” should be free to choose, according to perceived merit. Even Mao Tse-tung once said that “letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend” was a good idea, although his sincerity has to be doubted. His encouragement of free speech was just a ruse. Having “enticed the snakes out of their caves”, as he put it, he had all those who revealed themselves as dissidents locked up! Heretic TOC can only hope CEOP is not being just as crafty as the ruthless old dictator!