Several British police forces have questioned newsagents in an attempt to monitor sales of a special edition of Charlie Hebdo magazine following the Paris attacks, the Guardian has learned.There is, one must assume, no crime of any description in Wiltshire, Wales or Cheshire and the police forces are so bored that they are going around asking impertinent and ridiculous questions about who has bought and even read the special issue of a French satirical magazine.
Officers in Wiltshire, Wales and Cheshire have approached retailers of the magazine, it has emerged, as concerns grew about why police were attempting to trace UK-based readers of the French satirical magazine.
There is, of course, another explanation and that is that the police forces of the two counties and of Wales consider that behaviour to be criminal and something that needs to be investigated and, possibly, punished.
The police forces explained it all rather differently, producing that old bromide about the need to keep community tensions down. Or something. Not, surely not, a need to control what people read.
A Dyfed-Powys police spokeswoman declined to say why officers sought the names of Charlie Hebdo readers but said: “Following the recent terrorism incidents, Dyfed Powys police have been undertaking an assessment of community tensions across the force area.Remember that the next time any of the police forces mentioned here complain about lack of resources.
“Visits were made to newsagents who were maybe distributing the Charlie Hebdo magazine to encourage the newsagent owners to be vigilant. We can confirm the visits were only made to enhance public safety and to provide community reassurance.”
In Warrington, Cheshire, a police officer telephoned a newsagent that had ordered one issue of the magazine for a customer, who asked to remain anonymous. She said: “My husband ordered a copy of the special edition of Charlie Hebdo from our local newsagent in North Cheshire.
“Several days later the latter had a phone call from the police, saying they’d been told that he had been selling and advertising Charlie Hebdo in his shop. He replied that this was untrue: he had supplied in total one copy, concealed, to a customer who was a French lecturer. I find the police action quite disturbing.”
DCI Paul Taylor, of Cheshire constabulary, said he was not aware of any officer contacting newsagents by telephone but added: “We were aware of the potential for heightened tensions following the attacks in Paris. Therefore where it was felt appropriate officers visited newsagents to provide reassurance advice around the time of its publication.”
In a later statement, a Cheshire police spokeswoman said: “Officers were asked to call into local newsagents in their area to provide visible reassurance around the time of publication and were not asked under any circumstances to make inquiries as to who was purchasing or preordering the Charlie Hebdo magazine. Each area endeavoured to visit as many newsagents as possible however we cannot provide an exact figure.”