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Antigay Letter May Give UK Woman Trouble


Pauline Howe, 67, wrote the letter to Norwich city council about the July pride march -- the city's first -- and was investigated for possible hate crimes, according to The Telegraph newspaper. She has said she may sue the police and council.

Howe's letter complained that the "sodomites" had "contributed to the downfall of every empire." She said she had been verbally abused at the pride event in the city center and added, "It is shameful that this small, but vociferous lobby should be allowed such a display unwarranted by the minimal number of homosexuals."

In response, Bridget Buttinger, deputy chief executive at the council, replied in a September letter to Howe, explaining that she could be charged as a criminal for the content of her letter and that, "As a local authority [the city council has] a duty along with other public bodies to eliminate discrimination of all kinds." Buttinger described the crime by saying, "A hate incident is any incident that is perceived by the victim or any other person as being motivated by prejudice or hatred. A hate crime is any hate incident that constitutes a criminal offence... The content of your letter has been assessed as potentially being hate related because of the views you expressed towards people of a certain sexual orientation... Your details and details of the content of your letter have been recorded as such and passed to the Police."

Howe, described as a "committed Christian" by The Independent, said her views, including those that describe gays as the major cause of the spread of sexually transmitted disease, were not homophobic, merely statements of her religious belief.

"I've never been in any kind of trouble before so I was stunned to have two police officers knocking at my door," she said of the police's decision to send officers to question Howe. "Their presence in my home made me feel threatened. It was a very unpleasant experience." Police determined that, though her letter was "a hate incident and had caused offence," according to The Telegraph, no crime had been committed, and a spokesperson for the Norfolk constabulary defended the decision to have Howe questioned.

Both the Christian Institute, with which Howe is consulting about whether to take legal action against the city council and police, and the gay rights group Stonewall have voiced opinions that the police action was disproportionate.

The United Kingdom has more stringent laws concerning areas of speech protected by law, including hate speech and libel. In February, members of the Westboro Baptist Church were refused entry to the United Kingdom based on past hate speech.

In May 2008 the British government passed criminal justice reform legislation with an amendment to its antigay hate-crimes section ensuring protection of "discussion or criticism" of minority sexual practices. In early 2009, a new bill was passed that stripped that language from the law, despite a proposed amendment that received support from a number of people, including gay actors and comedians, to preserve the loophole protecting antigay speech.

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Matthew Breen