Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Charlie Hebdo in Presteigne

© Colin Smith
There are reports that several newsagents selling copies of Charlie Hebdo have been approached by police.

One of the places where this has taken place is Presteigne in Powys - not a town noted for its inter-faith tensions.

Fashion may have moved on, but a few years ago it was where the cool kids who had decided to settle on the Welsh border went to live.

According to the Guardian:
Paul Merrett, 57, the owner of a newsagent in Presteigne, Wales, said a detective and a police community support officer from Dyfed-Powys police spent half an hour asking his wife Deborah, 53, about the magazine. 
“They wanted to know about Charlie Hebdo. They came in unannounced and we had customers,” he said. “There were questions asking where we got the Charlie Hebdo copies from, did we know who we sold them to – which we didn’t say. We were a bit bemused because it was out of the blue.” 
“My wife said, ‘Am I in trouble?’ because she thought she was in trouble for selling them. They said, ‘No, you’re not in trouble’ but just continued with their questioning for half an hour.” 
Merrett added: “It was all about Charlie Hebdo. I guess they wanted names and addresses of people we sold them to, which we didn’t tell them anything like that. We sold 30 copies. 
“My wife was a bit worried with the questioning but she certainly wouldn’t have given any names to the police. I’m shocked they asked. They wanted to know where we got the copies from, how did we let the customers know that we had them.”
Dyfed-Powys Police have issued a statement confirming shops in the town were visited but denying that customers' names were requested:
"Dyfed Powys Police can confirm the visits were only made to enhance public safety and to provide community reassurance."
You can be sure that when the last of our liberties is removed it will be done "to enchance public safety". And, while I am not sure exactly what "community reassurance" means, I suspect this intervention failed to provide it.

But why Presteigne of all places?

There may be a clue in a recent story on the Hereford Heckler ("Anarchist news and views from Hereford and beyond"):
A barmy local vicar has compared satirical cartoons in the French anti-racist magazine Charlie Hebdo with the anti-Semitic blasphemy of Nazi Germany. 
Writing in Presteigne’s parish magazine, Revd Steve Hollinghurst called it ironic that the west condemns the murder of Jewish people under Hitler’s rule but defends “to the hilt the right of others (cartoonists in this case) to ridicule and offend people of faith and their beliefs”. 
The vicar goes on to ask readers, “didn’t the holocaust begin with vile anti-Semitic cartoons? Is there that much difference?”
That post goes on to tell the story of the police's trawl of shops in the town and ends by asking:
So which of these two stories more accurately portrays life in Nazi Germany: The one where satirical journalists poke a bit of fun at all religions but ultimately promote a message of love and tolerance; Or the one where the strong arm of the state harasses a newsagent and demands to know details of customers who have bought copies of a legally published magazine?
Thanks to John for introducing me to the Hereford Heckler.


Peter Black said...

Apparently they also approached newsagents in Cardiff. Kirsty Williams who represents Presteigne in the Welsh Assembly is writing to Dyfed Powys Police to seek an explanation.

Helena said...

Something similar happened in Wiltshire. Surely it didn't occur simultaneously to three separate police forces to do this?