A woman who was challenged by police officers for wearing an anti-Boris Johnson T-shirt at a Black Lives Matter demonstration is launching legal action against them over the right to free speech and political debate.
Jessie-Lu Flynn, an actor who is also the founder of the immersive theatre company Wide Eyes, estimates that she has attended more than a dozen demonstrations wearing the “Fuck Boris” T-shirt without being challenged by the police.
But that changed when she attended a BLM demonstration in central London on 3 June. She did not experience any problems at the demonstration itself. She said she saw various banners bearing the same slogan but did not see any intervention by police officers to challenge those holding these banners.
When she and a friend left the demonstration and were walking to Oxford Circus she saw two police officers gesturing to her. She did not understand what they were trying to communicate and went over to speak to them.
She was asked to zip up her jacket to cover up the slogan and was informed that she was in breach of section 5 of the Public Order Act, which states that: “A person is guilty of an offence if he – (a) uses threatening words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or (b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening.”
It is not an offence if they “had no reason to believe that there was any person within hearing or sight who was likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress”.
Flynn filmed part of the incident on her phone and when she posted it on YouTube it went viral. The officers, from British Transport Police, informed her that she was in breach of the law by wearing the T-shirt because it displayed an obscene word that could cause alarm or distress.
Flynn has launched a legal action arguing that the police actions interfered with her right to express her legitimate political opinions.
Her lawyers, Joanna Khan and Michael Oswald at Bhatt Murphy Solicitors, are arguing that the officers were in breach of human rights legislation. Flynn is seeking assurances that officers will not adopt the same approach if she wears the T-shirt at future protests and has requested an apology from the police.
She said that freedom of political debate is at the core of a democratic society.
Flynn told the Guardian: “When the police told me I had to zip up my jacket to cover up my T-shirt I thought ’Are you serious?’ I’m very concerned about how rightwing this government is. I feel so strongly that our government is doing a terrible job and I want to be able to express this. I find the way Boris Johnson has described black people and Muslims is deeply offensive. I’ve had it with these posh Etonian men running the country.”
Khan and Oswald said: “Being able to criticise politicians is fundamentally important in a democracy. The importance of freedom of speech should be particularly clear to this prime minister who has compared women in burqas to letterboxes without any criminal sanction himself.”
British Transport Police declined to comment.