Police are investigating whether offensive comments about disabled people and ethnic minorities that were posted on a government website could have broken the law.
A complaint about the postings on the Treasury’s Spending Challenge site has been lodged with the Metropolitan police’s violent crime directorate, the unit which investigates hate crimes against disabled people and other minorities.
The complaint was lodged by Anne Novis, a leading disabled activist and anti-hate crime campaigner.
Last month, the Treasury was forced to suspend the website – set up to ask for suggestions on how to cut public spending – after it allowed members of the public to post offensive comments about disabled people and then failed to remove them.
Despite claiming the website was being moderated – where postings are checked for suitability – the Treasury failed to remove any of 23 offensive posts that were revealed in July by a brief search by Disability News Service.
Novis said she had been “outraged” by comments posted on the site that she said were inciting hatred and hostility – and which were left on the site by the Treasury – but was “thrilled” the police were taking her complaint seriously.
She said: “I felt it was so bad that it had to be reported to the police. The message needs to go out that this hostility is not acceptable.”
A Metropolitan police spokesman said: “We are considering the information passed to us to establish whether any criminal offences have been committed.
“Some of the comments were of an offensive and discriminatory nature and we are looking to see whether they constitute criminal offences.”
But he said they would not be investigating whether the Treasury itself had broken any laws by failing to moderate the website properly.
He said: “With regards to the moderating of the site, that is a matter for the Treasury.”
A Treasury spokesman declined to comment on the police investigation.
The Treasury has now asked the public to rate their favourite ideas among more than 44,000 suggestions submitted through the site – including many that appear to promote hatred of disabled people.
It pledges that “the most promising ideas will be taken forward” as part of its spending review, which will set government budgets for the next four years.
26 August 2010