Police Scotland receives more than 3,000 complaints under new hate crime laws

JK Rowling posted pictures of 10 high-profile trans people on Monday and ridiculed their claims to be women
JK Rowling posted pictures of 10 high-profile trans people on Monday and ridiculed their claims to be women - John Phillips/Getty Images

More than 3,000 complaints have been made to Police Scotland under the SNP’s new hate crime laws since they came into force this week, it has been reported following warnings that the force would be overwhelmed.

Calum Steele, the former general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, said he understood that around 3,800 cases had been lodged over the previous 24 hours.

Although the force said the number of complaints was still being collated, BBC Scotland reported the extraordinary total since Monday. Critics had warned the legislation would be “weaponised” by trans activists.

But JK Rowling has warned Police Scotland against “going after” any woman for misgendering trans people after the force dismissed the first complaints against her under the SNP’s new hate crime laws.

The Harry Potter author said she hoped “every woman in Scotland” would be “reassured” by the force’s announcement that her stance that trans women are really men was not criminal.

In a direct challenge to Police Scotland, she said that she expected all women who expressed similar views would be treated equally under the law “irrespective of profile or financial means”.

Rowling, who lives in Edinburgh, said: “If they go after any woman for simply calling a man a man, I’ll repeat that woman’s words and they can charge us both at once.”

Only hours after the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act came into force on Monday, Rowling posted pictures of 10 high-profile trans people and ridiculed their claims to be women.

‘Lovely Scottish lass’

They included the “double rapist” Isla Bryson, whom she mockingly referred to as a “lovely Scottish lass”, and India Willoughby, the television personality. She then dared the force to arrest her.

Her supporters had expected that trans activists would use the legislation to lodge police complaints against her at the first opportunity.

A furious Willoughby said Police Scotland’s announcement was a “joke”, before accusing the force of caving in to the author and making a “mockery of the whole hate crime Bill”. She asked: “What’s going on, Humza Yousaf?”

Joanna Cherry KC, a senior SNP MP and ally of Rowling, said the author had done a “great service” but warned: “It’s a little early to be sure that the zealots who wanted to weaponise aspects of this new law against women have been thwarted.”

She questioned whether Rowling would have a non-crime hate incident (NCHI) recorded against her name and challenged Police Scotland to come clean on the matter. The force declined to comment.

Torrent of vexatious complaints

There were also increasing concerns that the legislation would lead to a torrent of vexatious complaints being made to police, tying up officers for hours.

The Scottish Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, told The Telegraph that anecdotal evidence from its members suggested there had been “lots of complaints” in the first 24 hours.

Humza Yousaf oversaw the passage of the hate crime legislation at Holyrood in 2021, when he was justice secretary in Nicola Sturgeon’s government. However, it did not come into force until Monday, April Fool’s Day, as Police Scotland said it needed time for training.

A person commits an offence under the Act if they communicate material, or behave in a manner, “that a reasonable person would consider to be threatening or abusive,” with the intention of stirring up hatred based on the protected characteristics.

Concerns over definition of hate crime

The legislation extends long-standing offences around racist abuse to other grounds on the basis of age, disability, religion, sexual orientation or transgender identity.

However, an amendment to add sex to the list of protected characteristics was voted down when the legislation was being considered at Holyrood.

Concerns have also been expressed that the legislation’s definition of a hate crime is too ambiguous, potentially leading to a “chilling” effect on freedom of speech.

At the end of her list of trans women, Rowling tweeted: “April Fools! Only kidding. Obviously, the people mentioned in the above tweets aren’t women at all, but men, every last one of them.”

‘I look forward to being arrested’

The author concluded: “I’m currently out of the country, but if what I’ve written here qualifies as an offence under the terms of the new act, I look forward to being arrested when I return to the birthplace of the Scottish Enlightenment.”

She used the hashtag #arrestme but the Prime Minister and Alister Jack, the Scottish Secretary, said she should not be criminalised for “stating simple facts on biology”.

In a statement issued on Tuesday afternoon, a Police Scotland spokesman said: “We have received complaints in relation to the social media post. The comments are not assessed to be criminal and no further action will be taken.”

Rowling posted on X, formerly Twitter:

But Willoughby tweeted: “JK Rowling has deliberately tweeted hateful transphobia – and Police Scotland instantly cave. There was intent behind it. She insulted named individuals because they were trans. She did it to hurt, and will now do it even more.”

Roddy Dunlop KC, the dean of the Faculty of Advocates, said: “As many of us have been saying: the bar for prosecution, let alone conviction, is high; and I doubt we will see many of either.

“The problem is more likely to lie in the police being swamped with reports, and what happens in terms of recording.”

David Kennedy, the general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, told The Telegraph: “My feedback is there’s lots of complaints coming in. It’s going to be a few weeks until we see how it’s affecting reporting mechanisms.”

Free speech and data protection

It came to light last week that a Tory MSP is preparing to take legal action against Police Scotland after his tweet comparing non-binary people with those who identify as cats was recorded as an NCHI.

Murdo Fraser discovered that the social media post in which he criticised Scottish government gender policies in November had been formally recorded by police as an NCHI without his knowledge.

The long-serving Mid Scotland and Fife MSP said he had received legal advice which suggested the actions of Police Scotland were unlawful, as it had breached his rights around free speech and data protection.

In a test case, a judge in England ruled that police recording NCHIs based solely on the perception of the complainant was not unlawful per se, but additional safeguards were needed to protect freedom of speech.

NCHIs based on ‘perception’

This led to English police forces being issued new guidance warning them that freedom of speech and proportionality must be taken into account when recording hate incidents.

Although Police Scotland is reviewing the practice, the force is still recording NCHIs solely based on the “perception” of the person making the complaint.

This means that someone could be recorded as committing a hate incident even if police agree they had done nothing wrong.

Mr Fraser welcomed Police Scotland’s announcement on Rowling but added: “Presumably, in line with current policy (which I am challenging as unlawful), these complaints will now be recorded as ‘non-crime hate incidents’?”