The man who wasn’t actually arrested for joking about Nelson Mandela

In a shocking disregard for freedom of expression, Neil Phillips from Rugeley, Staffordshire, was arrested last week after he made tasteless jokes about Nelson Mandela on the internet. Or was he?

In a shocking disregard for freedom of expression, Neil Phillips from Rugeley, Staffordshire, was arrested last week after making tasteless jokes about Nelson Mandela on the internet.

Or so the Daily Mail reported last Thursday.

A sandwich shop owner endured eight hours of questioning by police and had his computer seized for three weeks – after making tasteless Nelson Mandela jokes on the internet.

Neil Phillips, who runs Crumbs in Rugeley, Staffordshire, says he was also finger-printed and DNA-swabbed after officers received complaints about what he insists were harmless gags.

In one online post, the 44-year-old wrote: ‘My PC takes so long to shut down I’ve decided to call it Nelson Mandela.’

Mandela, the former South African leader, and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, died on Thursday, aged 95.

He said: ‘It was an awful experience. I was fingerprinted, they took DNA and my computer.

‘It was a couple of jokes, Bernard Manning type.

‘There was no hatred.”

Poor Mr Phillips.

In reality, however, Neil Phillips was not arrested for making online wise cracks about the former South African President and anti-apartheid hero at all. Rather, a complaint was made to the police about him for hate speech which was directed toward local Muslims.

According to the man who reported Mr Phillips to the police, Nelson Mandela was mentioned, but was not central to the complaint made against Mr Phillips.

Below is a copy of the letter of complaint sent to the police.

Muslims hate speech

And here are a few examples are why the complaints were made.

Neil Phillips 2

Neil Phillips 3


The only ‘joke’ the Mail noticed:

Neil Phillips Nelson2

This wasn’t the only inaccuracy in the Mail’s piece. Further down the article we read the following:

“Mr Phillips admitted to once being a member of the far-right BNP, but quit 25 years ago.”

Unfortunately for the Mail and Mr Phillips this also isn’t true, as a local newspaper clipping from 1999 attests. In a letter to the Rugeley Mercury from 1999, Mr Phillips boasted that the BNP were “growing in Rugely and here to stay”.

“…we are receiving excellent support from our fellow residents,” Mr Phillips added.


Contrary to what he told the Daily Mail, then, Mr Phillips did not leave the BNP 25 years ago – he was still a member 14 years ago and perhaps even later.

So it was less a case of ‘man locked up for Mandela jokes’, and more ‘lying ex-BNP member questioned after allegedly making string of anti-muslim online remarks’.

This is not to say that Mr Phillips’ arrest wasn’t rather illiberal, just that the original story by the Mail was wildly inaccurate.

Not like the Mail to get the basic facts wrong on a story now, is it?

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30 Responses to “The man who wasn’t actually arrested for joking about Nelson Mandela”

  1. Flaming Fairy

    And? So what? He’s a nasty piece of work and I probably wouldn’t want to spend a night in a pub with him but does that make his arrest all right?

  2. James Bloodworth

    Arresting the man was clearly an extremely illiberal thing to do. That doesn’t take away fron the inaccuracy of the Mail’s original piece, though.

  3. Stephen Wigmore

    Agreed with the below. He’s a bit of a tit. Saying you don’t like mosques and using the word halal in an obnoxious manner should not get anyone locked up. There was no hate speech directed at actual people, threats of violence or any other illegal content shown here.

  4. NilsBoray

    Read the article

  5. Cole

    But the point is that the Mail’s article was wholly inaccurate. They wwre just trying to get headlines about ‘political correctness gone mad’ – regardless of the facts.

  6. Flaming Fairy

    I’ve read it and – so what?

  7. Flaming Fairy

    The Mail is inaccurate. That’s the important issue here?

  8. Flaming Fairy

    But even with the ‘facts’ this is still “political correctness gone mad”. Nobody is actually physically hurt buy a tweet

  9. DaveAtherton20

    Despite the horrific photograph arguably Phillips has done a public service by publishing the murder or possibly genocide of innocent people. The wheelchair is just humour, the Mandela joke is just possibly tasteless and the visit to the Mosque is fair if not reasonable comment.

    How many Muslim parents would object to their children being made to visit a Christian Church? Probably more than Christian children being sent to a Mosque I would guess, will Tim Jones be reporting Muslims for racism too?

    I am afraid this is a non article too and shows the left to be vindictive, bigoted and anti free speech. It was a Nazi and Communist tactic to use guilt by association.

    May God help us all.

  10. Comprehensiveboy

    What I find interesting is that this article pulls out all the stops to dissipate the outrage about the arrest. When you start to read it you follow the arguement so far and learn some background and context. Then, as is shown by many other commentors, your initial reaction that this is an outragious abuse of a british citizen in an apparently only formerly free county is inescapable. The argument is only attractive if you think it’s acceptable to shut some people up about sensitive issues. These people are working class white people. If this was working class white people being rude about white people with exactly the same beliefs and practices there wouldn’t be a peep. Because it’s non whites and muslims it’s different.

  11. DaveAtherton20

    While I am here let me demonstrate my commitment to free speech. For my sins I am involved in smoker’s rights and run a blog. It is totally unmoderated and in my “about” I write:

    “Any anti smokers are welcome to wish me a lingering or quick death from lung cancer, tell me I smell worse than a pig sty, and that I kill and eat babies. I support the right to offend and happy to bear the responsibility to be offended.”

    If you want to put something particularly nasty on there today I will donate £50 to a charity of your choice. Just nominate it in the comment and you can be completely anonymous too.

  12. Matthew Blott

    You’re right. The problem is Police actions like this are fuel to the fire for the Daily Mail.

  13. Andrew Keogh

    Or a night in a cell with him 😉

  14. Cole

    You might think it’s ok newspapers publishing totally inaccurate stories to promote their viewpoint. I don’t.

  15. Cole

    So you’re happy for the Mail to publish stuff that’s untrue?

  16. Flaming Fairy

    Did I say it was OK?

    Nope. It’s just not that important in this instance. Making unpleasant remarks about Muslims online should not lead to arrest. THAT is far more important

  17. TM

    To the Middle class on the Left and Right, the white Working class are now the ‘enemy within’, there to be despised for all being supposedly racist and despised for not being as cultured and as sophisticated and as privileged as they are. The Left patronise us and want to lead us, and the Right want to obliterate us and turn us into cheap labour or the very reason for their policies, as being that we are all chavs and workshy and drunken louts and, well you’ve probably heard about all that in the Daily Mail. The Middle class have hatred and contempt for the Working class for a number of reasons. First they exploit us and contribute to the culture of low wages and dead end jobs by staying silent so they can prosper themselves, tacitly accepting the tax evasion of the rich. Then, to assuage their Middle class guilt at the policies of empire, they become all loving towards black people and Asian people and immigrants, to prove how non racist they all are (pathologically obsessed with the old non racist bit aren’t they?) which translates as anyone non white being able to do anything racist or unpleasant against white people, and somehow not being racist or unpleasant at the same time?!! It’s magic!!! And the real agenda has nothing to do with black rights or Muslim rights, it is really to turn the poor whites here against the poor ethnic minorities like they have in the US, so that we are preoccupied with each other and don’t notice the Middle class carving out the best careers, housing, education and general life chances for themselves, whilst the rest of us, of whatever ethnicity, fight over the crumbs and turn our frustrations on each other. That is the real agenda folks. It is as cynical and as insipid as that. That’s why I am not taken in by Left or Right. They are all largely a part of the same system.

  18. DaveAtherton20

    Strawman argument. Tim Jones abused his status as a Councillor and barrister to get his collar felt. No wonder he was not charged.

  19. DaveAtherton20

    TM I think you make some good points here. The left’s hypocrisy is the most gut wrenching.

  20. Trofim

    Hate speech? What a nonsense. If I say I hate Nick Griffin, is it hate speech, but not bad hate speech? If I say I love Al Qaeda – is it love speech, the wrong kind of love speech or hate speech? If the concept of hate speech is valid, then so must the concepts of not nice speech, slightly unpleasant speech, very unpleasant, fairly nice speech and so on.

  21. Cole

    What are you twitttering on about? The whole point of LFF’s article was the dishonesty of the Mail. Stop trying to change the subject, and whining pathetically about lefties.

  22. Cole

    Ah, so you’re promoting your blog.

  23. DaveAtherton20

    Stick a vile comment on and your favourite charity gets £50.

    I have not updated it for a while, so no.

  24. DaveAtherton20

    So the real crime here is a biased newspaper’s, bias?

    Not a politically motivated Lib Dem trying to have a person banged up for telling tasteless jokes?

  25. Cole

    Have you actually read the article above? i don’t think so. And clearly you think it’s just fine for newspapers to tell porkies provided it chimes with your prejudices.

  26. TimJones

    What those who criticise me do not appear to have grasped is that Phillips was orchestrating hatred against Muslims. There were others who followed his lead, but I did not report the followers. (If class is relevant, please note that I reported the middle-class ringleader, not working-class followers.)
    This stoking-up of hatred does real harm to society. Law-abiding Muslims are vilified and in extreme cases attacked. That provokes a reaction and in extreme cases leads to those reacting also joining extremist groups.
    This is exactly what terrorists want: a reaction which ends up recruiting people to their cause.
    Dave Atherton has falsely smeared me on twitter and is doing this here. His “Tim Jones abused his status as a Councillor and barrister to get his collar felt” is yet another wholly false smear. I did not disclose that I was either a councillor or a barrister and there is no reason why the police concerned should have known either – I had never (to the best of my knowledge and belief) seen them before. I don’t practice criminal law. As for getting “his collar felt”, I did not express any opinion as to what the police should do or do anything to seek to influence how they handled the matter. I do think they acted properly in respect of something that causes real harm to community relations; but how they acted was not based on any request from me to act in a particular way.

  27. TM

    What harms community relations is the casualization of the labour market at the bottom and the acceptance amongst the political classes and those who are affluent that it’s OK to pay low wages, to create lots of dead end jobs and exploit people on zero hours contracts, as long as it is only poor people, Working class people and immigrants. This doesn’t seem to affect the Middle class or the wealthy though does it? There is always money for those with affluent careers and money for millionaires tax breaks and many other benefits the rich seem to effortlessly get. Not so with the poor, the disabled and the pensioners dying of hypothermia. And that goes for all poor people, whatever their colour, ethnicity or religion. Class ALWAYS matters, which is why the Left and the Right avoid debating it but will talk about racism and sexism and so on all day. The issue that underpins all injustice is usually economic in nature and class plays a large part in that.

  28. DaveAtherton20

    ” Phillips was orchestrating hatred against Muslims.” are Phillips’ lawyers reading this? These are serious allegations, and has Phillips been convicted, charged or out on bail for this offence?

    As a barrister I would expect more temperate language, based on prima facie evidence. Not the indifferent, at best tasteless, rubbish above.

    I think the fascist bigot here is you.

    BTW your comment has been screenshot.

  29. Cole

    Calling Tim Jones a fascist bigot really is pathetic. Do grow up and stop bandying these terms around.

  30. robertcp

    The Mail story was inaccurate, Phillips is a tasteless fool, he probably has racist tendencies but he should not have been arrested.

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