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

NeilPhillipsBlueBadge

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.

Mercury

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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