LONDON – British police have dropped charges against a man accused of inciting racial hatred on Twitter after the extremist attacks in Brussels.
Matthew Doyle of south London had been scheduled for a court hearing Saturday because of anti-Muslim tweets. The 46-year-old had been charged on Friday, but a later police statement said Doyle “is no longer charged with the offence and will not be appearing in court.”
The statement hinted that police may have overstepped their authority: “Police may not make charging decisions on offences under Section 19 of the Public Order Act,” it said.
Under British law, cases involving “incitement of racial hatred” have to be reviewed by a team of specialist government lawyers and approved by the attorney general.
The issue is sensitive because British law protects free speech but does not allow incitement of racial hatred. The dividing line can be difficult to draw as stirring up racial “tensions” is permissible but provoking racial “hatred” is not.
Doyle’s tweets the day after the Brussels attacks claimed 31 lives described how he confronted a Muslim woman in south London about the carnage.
When she told him the attacks had nothing to do with her, he criticized her response as “mealy mouthed.” He later used an anti-Muslim slur to describe her.
His tweets drew wide attention and were mocked by many.
The police statement said police will consult the Crown Prosecution Service about the case. It is possible Doyle will be charged at a later date.
British authorities have warned of a potential surge of anti-Muslim crimes as a result of the attacks in Brussels.
The so-called Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the airport and subway bombings and threatened more attacks against European targets.