EXCLUSIVE: Fife author Val McDermid reveals freedom of speech concerns over new hate crime law

Best-selling author Val McDermid fears Scotland’s new hate crime law will be “used as a stick to beat people with”.

The law – which comes into force on April 1 – says hate crime can be communicated through public performances, online or through printed media.

And the Fife crime writer says the bill could lead to vexatious complaints against performers and authors.

Val McDermid fears part of the hate crime law could lead to a waste of police time.

Kirkcaldy-born McDermid, who has sold more than 20 million books, told The Courier: “I’m obviously concerned about freedom of speech.

“Satire can be a very powerful weapon if all else fails.

“And I frequently have characters in my books who say things that are not my view.

“It’s essential to allow them to express their views, otherwise you end up with a completely anodyne story.

“And while I don’t think Police Scotland will make it a priority to investigate a sick joke told by a comedian at the Edinburgh Festival, they are obliged to investigate complaints.”

‘A huge waste of time for police’

The 68-year-old, best known for her Karen Pirie and Wire In The Blood series, predicts many people will take the new hate crime law “to the extreme”.

“It seems to me that people are, of course, looking at the ultimate ridiculous conclusion and will push it to see what happens,” she said.

“It’s going to be used as a stick to beat people with.

“It will be a huge waste of time for the police as they look into vexatious complaints.

“I’m sure one or two people have complained about me from time to time.

“They’ll end up with people doing it deliberately to cause trouble rather than dealing with hate speech and hate crime, which is a real thing.”

Real hate crime ‘a very serious issue’

Val McDermid also fears the clause, in the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021, relating to performances could result in real hate crime being trivialised.

“It’s a very serious issue that’s causing people very serious fear in their lives,” the Scottish independence supporter said.

“Janey Godley has finally left Twitter after being scunnered by the level of abuse and horrendous insults she gets on a daily basis on the platform.

Comedian Janey Godley. Image: Jamie Williamson.

“That’s the kind of hate speech, frankly, I would like to see the back of.”

The law says material used for “stirring up hatred” can be spread through the spoken word, the written word or by electronic communications.

This can include forwarding or repeating the material, with police pledging to investigate every complaint.

Earlier this week the new hate crime laws made global headlines after leaked Police Scotland training materials raised fears actors could be targeted.

However, the force insists: “Police Scotland is not instructing officers to target actors, comedians, or any other people or groups.”

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