Protesters Were ‘Reasonable’ to Call Iain Duncan Smith ‘Tory Scum’, Court Rules

Bad news for Tories.

by Simon Childs

22 November 2023

Sir Iain Duncan Smith. Photo: Official portrait via parliament.uk
Sir Iain Duncan Smith. Photo: Official portrait via parliament.uk

It was “reasonable” for protesters to call former Tory leader and work and pensions secretary Sir Iain Duncan Smith “Tory scum”, the high court has ruled.

Ruth Wood, 52, from Cambridge and Radical Haslam, 30, from Salford, were found not guilty of using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour with intent, following a request for a judicial review.

At a trial last year at Manchester Magistrates Court, Duncan Smith said he faced a “cacophony of sound” as he walked through Manchester city centre during the 2021 Conservative party conference.

The “Tory scum” comments came in a speech in which Haslam explained “why people hate you, why people call you scum”, saying, “It doesn’t come out of nowhere. It comes from what you have done to ordinary people’s lives […] shame on you, Tory scum.”

“Tory scum” was an “appallingly abusive piece of language”, Smith said.

In a separate incident, one protester ran up behind Duncan Smith and placed a traffic cone on his head, which he removed. Following this incident, Haslam and Wood followed him for a short distance and Wood told him to, “Fuck off out of Manchester.”

As work and pensions secretary during the Cameron-Clegg coalition government, Duncan Smith made it harder for sick and disabled people to claim benefits. Thousands of people died after they were declared “fit for work” by work capability assessments which cut their benefits. In 2016 he left cabinet in a surprise move, complaining about cuts to disability benefits that were “a compromise too far”.

Judge Paul Goldspring said that calling Iain Duncan Smith “Tory scum” was “reasonable” in the context of articles 10 and 11 of the human rights act.

He found that “the use of Tory scum was to highlight the policies” of Duncan Smith. “The courts do not criminalise free speech. The Crown has not shown me it is proportionate to criminalise those words,” he said.

He stressed that the decision does not set a precedent for what might be lawful in other circumstances – “but that in this case, on these facts, the use of those words did not amount to an offence, as in the circumstances it was reasonable and protected by the convention.”

Simon Childs is a commissioning editor and reporter for Novara Media.

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