Fiona Hamilton - Crime Editor - The Times - 27/01/20223
Police have arrested a women’s rights campaigner for an alleged hate crime and seized an academic book from her home after she put up posters “directed towards the trans community”.
Jennifer Swayne, 53, was detained for more than 12 hours after placing posters around Newport that made claims about trans women in prisons and said “humans never change sex” and that men in dresses should stay out of women’s spaces.
She accused Gwent police of operating “like the Stasi” after they raided her home and took a book of essays on “the theory and practice of transgendering children”. Co-edited by Dr Heather Brunskell-Evans, an academic previously no-platformed by university students, and Professor Michele Moore, the book contends that politics rather than science accounts for the rise in the number of transgender children. Swayne said that police did not say why they took the book, which contained her handwritten notes.
Swayne, who is disabled, was riding around Newport on her mobility scooter putting up posters on Sunday afternoon when police stopped her. She was arrested on suspicion of criminal damage and displaying threatening or abusive writing likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress. The force said that it had received six complaints about offensive posters and told Swayne that evidence included CCTV video of a woman on a mobility scooter posting stickers in recent months. Swayne was released on conditional bail at 3.30am. Her phone was seized.
Last month Priti Patel, the home secretary, told police to do more to protect freedom of speech after judges ruled that recording “non-crime hate incidents” risked interfering with people’s right to express their opinions.
Fair Cop, which campaigns against the criminalisation of free speech, accused Gwent police of “unlawful interference”. Harry Miller, the group’s co-founder who won a landmark legal victory against another force when he was accused of alleged transphobic tweets, said that Gwent police were “out of control”.
Miller claimed that the posters that Swayne put up around the Welsh town were a “political statement” that did not come near the criminal threshold.
Sarah Phillimore, also of Fair Cop, said that the removal of the book was “concerning” and she awaited a knock on the door by police because she also owned it.
Superintendent Vicki Townsend of Gwent police said: “We’ve received several reports in relation to posters containing offensive material appearing in Newport between October and January. Officers on patrol in Newport saw a woman spraying stickers to two lamp posts.” The force refused to detail the nature of the stickers while the investigation was continuing.
Swayne said they were posters she had made at home. Phrases included “no child is born in the wrong body, humans never change sex”; “respect women’s spaces”; and “Woman = Adult Human Female”. Her other posters said that women were in danger in prisons from transgender sex offenders and called for “no men in women’s prisons”. One asked: “Are you happy for your 13-year-old daughter to shower next to an adult man, yes or no?”
Another said that men in dresses should stay out of women’s spaces. Swayne said that officers described one sticker, which said “cervix — it’s a woman thang”, as “very hurtful”.
She told The Times she was not transphobic and was educating the public about gender politics. “I have never made a sticker with the word trans in it. This is about women at risk,” she said.
Swayne said that police did not tell her why they had taken the transgender book — a collection of essays entitled Transgender Children and Young People: Born in Your Own Body.
Brunskell-Evans, who edited the book, said that the police appeared to be operating within a “very narrow, partisan view of what it is legitimate to have on your bookshelf”.
“That is dangerous for liberal democracy. A book that has been published, is in the public domain and has been for years, and does not break the law in any way whatsoever, should be of no concern to the police.”
Owing to her disability, Swayne had to lie on her back in a police van on her way to the station to be questioned. Gwent police said it had received six complaints about offensive posters. The force said that it was required to respond when members of the public reported they were offended by posters.
Gwent police said that it had put out a public safety message a few days before the arrest because it had been reported that stickers had “sharp objects” attached behind them.
Swayne denied attaching sharp objects behind stickers and said that it would have been impossible for her to do so given that she had the use of only one arm. She added that claims of putting pins and glass behind stickers and posters was an “urban myth” that had often been associated with controversial campaigns.