Police have apologised to a woman after she was challenged by officers at a Black Lives Matter demonstration for wearing an anti-Boris Johnson T-shirt and admitted that asking her to cover up the slogan on her clothing was unlawful.
Jessie-Lu Flynn, an actor and the founder of the immersive theatre company Wide Eyes, was wearing a T-shirt bearing the slogan “Fuck Boris” at a BLM rally in central London on 3 June. She said she had worn the T-shirt on more than a dozen occasions without being challenged by police.
She did not experience any problems at the demonstration, but when she and a friend left and were walking to Oxford Circus, she was challenged by two police officers, who asked her to zip up her jacket to cover the slogan. She was informed that she was in breach of part of the Public Order Act.
Following the incident, Flynn launched legal action arguing that the police actions interfered with her right to express her legitimate political opinions.
Now Flynn has received a letter of apology on behalf of the chief constable of British Transport Police (BTP), which says the instruction to cover her T-shirt and the brief detention to give that direction were unlawful. It apologises for any distress caused and gives an undertaking that “the wearing of the T-shirt alone will not lead to her arrest or any direction to cover it”.
Flynn welcomed the police apology and admission that they had acted unlawfully towards her. “I’m thrilled,” she said. “Now I can be confident that I can wear the T-shirt without fear of arrest.”
She said she had decided to take legal action because an important principle was at stake. “Two of the early signs of an authoritarian state are being told what to wear and being told you can’t criticise the government,” she said.
She said she was conscious that the colour of her skin and her connections, which enabled her to find good lawyers, might have helped her secure the outcome.
“I’ve been very concerned about the recent media reports of police racism against some black individuals. I hope that the police can focus on rectifying those problems of racism rather than on stopping people for wearing T-shirts,” she said.
Flynn filmed part of the incident last month on her phone and when she posted it on YouTube it went viral. The officers, from BTP, told her she was in breach of the law by wearing the T-shirt because it displayed an obscene word that could cause alarm or distress.
Her lawyers, Joanna Khan and Michael Oswald at Bhatt Murphy solicitors, said: “This admission that the officers’ actions were unlawful and the apology to our client are welcome. They should serve as a strong reminder to police officers that the freedom to express political opinion, and to criticise politicians, is fundamental to a free and democratic society, and that invoking the criminal law to limit that freedom will be unacceptable and unlawful in all but the most extreme circumstances.”
Flynn said as the original producer of the Fuck Boris T-shirts was no longer manufacturing them, she and a friend had started producing similar T-shirts, with 20% of proceeds being donated to BLM charities.
A BTP spokesperson said:“We can confirm that we have apologised to the claimant for any distress that was caused to her by the direction to cover her T-shirt, and we have admitted that this direction was unlawful.”