Grenfell Tower Bonfire Video – Has a crime been committed?

The recent sight of a Grenfell Tower model being lifted onto a bonfire and set alight will have disgusted all that viewed it. It has understandably been widely condemned but something that disgusts us is not always illegal. Following the arrest and subsequent release on bail of 6 people, the Police and Crown Prosecution Service will be considering whether a criminal offence has been committed. Here, Tom Oates, Partner, takes a look at the possible offences that might apply.

The Malicious Communication Act creates an offence of sending a ‘grossly offensive or indecent, obscene or menacing message’ via a communications network, which could include websites, social media or messaging applications. There could be an argument made that this offence applies to this act. The question might depend on who posted the video and why they did so.
The Public Order Act creates a number of different offences, some of which could potentially apply to these facts. Whilst the Public Order Act protects freedom of speech and expression in your own home, it is still illegal to cause ‘distress’ with ‘any writing, sign or other visible representation’. The suspects could however be cleared if they could show that they did not believe anyone else would see the stunt, other than those involved.

A more obscure offence of ‘outraging public decency’ is often used to prosecute sexual acts but that is not the only purpose of the offence. There is little doubt that this act would be classed as outraging the decency expected of the public but the location of a private garden might prevent such an offence from being committed.

Similar types of acts have resulted in criminal convictions in the past. As we approach Armistice Day, we are reminded of the prosecution of a man that burned a poppy in 2011. He was prosecuted under the Public Order Act but that offence was committed on a public street, rather than what appears to be a private garden.

There are certainly offences under our law that could see prosecutions brought for this act. The Police will now liaise with the CPS to decide what, if any, charges should be brought.