An investigation into an allegation that an English Defence League leader had made racist comments on Facebook has been dropped. Kevin Carroll was arrested in January but a Bedfordshire Police spokeswoman said the case had now been dropped due to lack of evidence.
It is certainly true that a charge of incitement to racial hatred (under Part 3 of the Public Order Act) could not have been brought successfully against Carroll, as Muslims are defined as a multi-ethnic faith community and unlike Jews and Sikhs, who are held to be mono-ethnic groups, are not covered by the racial hatred law.
Carroll would have had to be prosecuted under the religious hatred law (Part 3A of the Public Order Act) which is much weaker. Unlike the racial hatred law, it requires proof that the intention was to incite hatred and, further, that the words should be threatening. Carroll would of course have denied that he intended to incite hatred, and in any case his Facebook comment did not contain any actual threats.
However, Carroll could have been charged under Section 127(1) of the Communications Act, which makes it an offence to send over a public electronic communications network a message that is “grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character”.
The decision to drop the case against Carroll demonstrates two things. First, that there is a need to amend the religious hatred law so that Muslims enjoy the same protection against incitement to hatred that Jews and Sikhs do. And, second, that the police and Crown Prosecution Service should take incitement to hatred against Muslims much more seriously and show a greater willingness to use the legal powers they do have.