The Sentinel leader column: Michael Coleman conviction for blog comments is liberty's loss
There is little doubt that BNP activist Michael Coleman is an obscure, twisted individual who harbours strange views and exhibits a poor grasp of the English language. There is even less debate that Stoke-on-Trent is a far, far better place without him and his former BNP councillors in the city council chamber. Voters did themselves – and everyone else in the city – a big favour when they booted the erstwhile Councillor Coleman and his gang of misfits out of power. However this week's jury decision that Coleman's regular internet rants warrant a criminal conviction for racially-aggravated harassment, is not a welcome development. Particularly when reflecting that most of the freedoms we all enjoy would not have been won without the important principle of freedom of speech. What was a good day for Coleman's political opponents, might turn out to be a very bad day for British liberty.
One of the great truisms of the world wide web is that the reliability of a huge amount of the material published on there should be dismissed out of hand. Which brings us neatly to Coleman's barmy blog, Stokepatriot.blogspot.com. Suffice to say, its purple prose will never trouble the judges of the Pulitzer Prize. His views are at best weird, at worst objectionable. However, it takes a sizeable mental leap to suggest that the content could, by itself, lead a reader into racial harassment. This week's case against Coleman did not relate to comments he made about an individual, but rather to his views on council policy and his use of the general term 'darkies'. He admitted writing the blog entries but denied intending to incite harassment. Previously, a few thousand people may have read Coleman's blog. It seems a fair bet that thousands more will be logging on this week after his appearance in the dock. Perversely, it may be the defendant – given a wider platform, by the court, to air his views – who has gained most from his prosecution. Worse still, it is certainly liberty and freedom of speech that are the great losers.
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