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Transgender tweets were freedom of speech, British judge rules

LONDON (Reuters) - A British judge on Friday backed a man who was visited by police responding to his “transphobic” comments posted on Twitter, saying their action had interfered with his freedom of speech.

FILE PHOTO: The Twitter logo and binary cyber codes are seen in this illustration taken November 26, 2019. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

Harry Miller posted 31 “gender critical” tweets between November 2018 and January 2019 which were reported to police by a transgender woman, referred to as Mrs B, who said they were “brazen transphobic comments”.

In one message Miller, a former police office himself, wrote: “I was assigned mammal at birth, but my orientation is fish. Don’t mis-species me”, and in another he said: “You know the worst thing about cancer? It’s transphobic.”

He also made references to the Olympic success of Caitlyn Jenner, America’s best-known transgender celebrity who announced her transition from gold medalist Bruce Jenner to Caitlyn in 2015.

Police categorized Mrs B’s complaint as a ‘non-crime hate incident’ and an officer visited Miller’s workplace. In a later phone call, the officer left him with the impression that he could face criminal prosecution if he continued to tweet.

Miller took legal action against the local police force and on Friday judge Julian Knowles at London’s High Court upheld his claim, ruling the tweets were lawful and that police had disproportionately interfered with his right of freedom of expression.

“In this country we have never had a Cheka, a Gestapo or a Stasi,” the judge said. “We have never lived in an Orwellian society.”

However, he rejected Miller’s complaint about the College of Policing’s wider guidance on hate crimes, saying it served legitimate purposes.

Miller, who works in a plant and machinery company in eastern England, denied that he was prejudiced against transgender people, saying his position was “accurately described as gender-critical”.

“I want to raise awareness by stating that which used to be instinctively obvious – a biological man is a man and a biological woman is a woman. To claim otherwise is extraordinary,” he said in a statement to the court.

After the ruling, he said the judge’s decision had sent a message to police about how they should treat such cases.

“This is a watershed moment for liberty,” he said.

Deputy Chief Constable Bernie O’Reilly from the College of Policing said police wanted people to express their opinions as passionately as they wished without breaking the law.

“In policing we don’t always get things right and there will of course be some learning following today’s judgment,” he said.

Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Stephen Addison