A city councillor was questioned by police for two hours after a joke he made at a public meeting attracted a complaint of “homophobia”.
Conservative councillor Jonathan Yardley said he was quizzed by an inspector and a sergeant before being “let off with a warning”.Councillor Yardley made the joke when he chaired a recent West Midlands Police public liaison meeting.
Audience members were issued with electronic handsets in order to select answers to particular questions.
In a letter to the Daily Telegraph today, Councillor Yardley explained the joke that led to the complaint.
He wrote: “The presenter said, ‘Let’s start with an easy question to get us going: press A if you’re male or B if you’re female’.
“To general amusement someone piped up: ‘What if you’re transgendered?’
“I quipped that you could press A and B together. There was much laughter.”
Councillor Yardley says the meeting then carried on as normal. However, several days later at a routine meeting Wolverhampton’s Chief Superintendent informed him that he was the subject of a complaint about “homophobic comments”.
Councillor Yardley was asked to attend his local police station, where he was questioned for two hours by an inspector and a sergeant.
He told his local newspaper: “They put me through the mill and asked me to confirm what I’d said and told me that a complaint had been made and I could be prosecuted.
“I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. They explained the legal process and what had happened and how the complaint had been made and they said I could be subject to a civil prosecution.”
A West Midlands Police spokesman said: “As part of a regular series of meetings that the councillor has with officers, they raised with him his inappropriate comments and offered him advice on making them in public.”
Councillor Yardley commented: “There are much more important issues that the police should be spending their time on. These are the times we live in, you can’t make jokes any more.”
West Midlands Police have “strongly refuted” Mr Yardley’s version of events during and after the meeting last October.
They say that, rather than causing “general amusement”, Mr Yardley’s comments caused offence to members of the audience, provoking their complaint to the police.
Chief Superintendent Richard Green said: “We are at a loss to understand why this has been raised now almost six months after the event.
“West Midlands Police would not wish the public to be left with the impression that this matter occupied a large amount of police time, as the contrary is true.”
Councillor Yardley’s story has broken just days after MPs voted against keeping a “free speech clause” in the offence of inciting hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation.
Several high-profile comedians have voiced their concerns about ‘hate speech laws on sexual orientation without sufficient protections for free speech.
Christopher Biggins, himself homosexual, wrote:”If this legal change really came into practice, there is no doubt it would create a new climate of fear, stifling creativity and restricting the scope for humour.”
“The politically correct bigots should not be allowed to have it both ways. They cannot say, on one hand, that gay lifestyles should be accepted as a perfectly normal part of life, and then, on the other, demand special treatment for gay people to shield them from everyday humour.”