Police Scotland receives more than 3,000 complaints under new hate crime laws

JK Rowling posted pictures of 10 high-profile trans people on Monday and ridiculed their claims to be women
JK Rowling posted pictures of 10 high-profile trans people on Monday and ridiculed their claims to be women - John Phillips/Getty Images

More than 3,000 complaints have been made to Police Scotland under the SNP’s new hate crime laws since they came into force this week, it has been reported, following warnings that the force would be overwhelmed.

Calum Steele, the former general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, said he understood that around 3,800 cases had been lodged over the previous 24 hours.

Although the force said the number of complaints was still being collated, BBC Scotland reported the extraordinary total since Monday. Critics had said the legislation would be “weaponised” by trans activists.

JK Rowling warned Police Scotland against “going after” any woman for misgendering trans people after the force dismissed the first complaints against her under the new hate crime laws.

The Harry Potter author said she hoped “every woman in Scotland” would be “reassured” by the force’s announcement that her stance that trans women are really men was not criminal.

In a direct challenge to Police Scotland, she said she expected all women who expressed similar views would be treated equally under the law “irrespective of profile or financial means”.

Rowling, who lives in Edinburgh, said: “If they go after any woman for simply calling a man a man, I’ll repeat that woman’s words and they can charge us both at once.”

Hours after the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act came into force on Monday, Rowling posted pictures of 10 high-profile trans people on Monday and ridiculed their claims to be women.

Rowling’s list, posted on X, included Isla Bryson, who was initially sent to a women’s prison after being convicted of two rapes, and to whom she mockingly referred as a “lovely Scottish lass”, and India Willoughby, the TV personality. She then dared the force to arrest her.

Her supporters had expected that trans activists would use the legislation to lodge police complaints against her.

Ms Willoughby said Police Scotland’s announcement was a “joke”, accusing the force of caving in to the author and making a “mockery of the whole hate crime Bill”.

Joanna Cherry KC, a senior SNP MP and ally of Rowling, said the author had done a “great service” but warned: “It’s a little early to be sure that the zealots who wanted to weaponise aspects of this new law against women have been thwarted.”

She questioned whether Rowling would have a non-crime hate incident recorded against her name, and challenged Police Scotland to come clean on the matter. The force declined to comment.

There were concerns that the legislation would lead to a torrent of vexatious complaints being made. The Scottish Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, told The Telegraph anecdotal evidence from members suggested there had been “lots of complaints” in the first 24 hours.

David Kennedy, the general secretary, said: “My feedback is there’s lots of complaints coming in. It’s going to be a few weeks until we see how it’s affecting reporting mechanisms.”

Humza Yousaf oversaw the passage of the hate crime legislation at Holyrood in 2021, when he was justice secretary in Nicola Sturgeon’s government.

However, it did not come into force until Monday, as Police Scotland said officers needed time for training.

‘Comments not assessed to be criminal’

A person commits an offence under the Act if they communicate material or behave in a manner “that a reasonable person would consider to be threatening or abusive”, with the intention of stirring up hatred based on the protected characteristics.

The legislation extends long-standing offences around racist abuse to other grounds on the basis of age, disability, religion, sexual orientation or transgender identity. However, an amendment to add sex to the list of protected characteristics was voted down when the legislation was being considered at Holyrood.

Fears been expressed that the legislation’s definition of a hate crime is too ambiguous, potentially leading to a “chilling” effect on freedom of speech.

At the end of the list, Rowling tweeted: “April Fools! Only kidding. Obviously, the people mentioned in the above tweets aren’t women at all, but men, every last one of them.

She concluded: “I’m currently out of the country, but if what I’ve written here qualifies as an offence under the terms of the new act, I look forward to being arrested when I return to the birthplace of the Scottish Enlightenment.”

She used the hashtag #arrestme, but Rishi Sunak and Alister Jack, the Scottish Secretary, said she should not be criminalised for “stating simple facts on biology”.

In a statement issued on Tuesday afternoon, a Police Scotland spokesman said: “We have received complaints in relation to the social media post. The comments are not assessed to be criminal and no further action will be taken.”

Rowling posted on X, formerly Twitter:

But Willoughby tweeted: “JK Rowling has deliberately tweeted hateful transphobia – and Police Scotland instantly cave. There was intent behind it. She insulted named individuals because they were trans. She did it to hurt, and will now do it even more.”

Roddy Dunlop KC, the dean of the Faculty of Advocates, said: “As many of us have been saying: the bar for prosecution, let alone conviction, is high, and I doubt we will see many of either.

“The problem is more likely to lie in the police being swamped with reports, and what happens in terms of recording.”

Last week, it came to light last week that a Tory MSP was preparing to take legal action against Police Scotland after his tweet comparing non-binary people with those who identify as cats was recorded as a non-crime hate incident.

Murdo Fraser discovered that the social media post, in which he criticised Scottish government gender policies in November, had been formally recorded as such an incident without his knowledge.

The Mid Scotland and Fife MSP said he had received legal advice that suggested the actions of Police Scotland were unlawful, as it had breached his rights around free speech and data protection.

Mr Fraser welcomed Police Scotland’s announcement on Rowling but added: “Presumably, in line with current policy, which I am challenging as unlawful, these complaints will now be recorded as non-crime hate incidents.”

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