Photo © David Hoffman

While Gordon Brown entertained the British electorate with Bigotgate, the Metropolitan Police gained David Cameron some unwelcome publicity with an Election Day raid on a photographer’s home that immediately became known as Wankergate.

On May 6th David Hoffman was working at home in London’s east end when he heard a loud banging on the front door. On opening the door he found himself facing what he describes as “a wall of cops, very pumped up, very angry, very aggressive”.

“Is that your poster?” demanded the police, referring to a poster in Hoffman’s front window of Conservative leader David Cameron with the word “wanker” emblazoned across it. When Hoffman confirmed that it was the police asked him for identification; as he turned to comply the five officers threw the door open, rushed in and handcuffed him.

“They burst into my house, pushed me back and handcuffed me,” claims Hoffman. “They said I had committed an offence under section 5 of the Public Order Act, I was being detained, and I might be arrested.” Section 5 of the POA refers to behaviour likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress.

In a later statement police denied forced entry, presumably on the technicality that the door was already open. But Hoffman, in a video interview with the Guardian, describes the officers involved as “a frightening gang of bullies who burst into my house”.

As a veteran photojournalist Hoffman has worked at many scenes of violent disorder and is used to dealing with police. He says, however, “this really took my breath away: I had no idea what they were going to do.”

After the police left Hoffman was phoned by Inspector Stephen Manger of Tower Hamlets police, and the two discussed at some length the possible options for a rewording of the offending poster. Excerpts give some flavour of The Wankergate Tapes:

David Hoffman: Suppose I were to replace the poster with the word wanker changed so there were 4 asterisks in the middle?
Inspector Manger: You’re denoting what that word is still, aren’t you? I think it’s possible that could be an offence.
David Hoffman: If I were to even cover everything except the W?
Inspector Manger: Well, now I’m not sure. You could construe that word to be anything. But now you’re losing the punch-line for your poster, sir.
David Hoffman: Supposing I put tosser? Where do you stand on tosser? Would I be arrested?
Inspector Manger: I can’t comment…
David Hoffman: I’m about to do it…
Inspector Manger: Mmmm. I couldn’t comment on that sir.
David Hoffman: You didn’t get this in your Inspector’s exam then?
Inspector Manger: No, it’s a tricky one, isn’t it?
David Hoffman: Well, could I say masturbator?
Inspector Manger: No, you couldn’t say that sir.
David Hoffman: Onanist? Self-abuser? It’s difficult to see how that would cause alarm or distress: a biblical word like onanist.
Inspector Manger: You have to consider what a reasonable person would find distressful.
David Hoffman: Is onanist a word you’re familiar with?
Inspector Manger: No, it isn’t.

The photographer, who has twice successfully sued the Metropolitan Police, has since consulted his lawyers, who plan to seek a Judicial Review of the police action.  If the review is successful the whole country would be legally free to display wanker posters and it would be difficult for police to cause alarm and distress when they become over-excited. A cold shower will have to suffice.

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