Mr Bean fights for the right to insult people

By Alex Gangitano

Rowan Atkinson has returned to the frontlines of free speech campaigns, with an attack on a public order offence which limits the public's ability to offend people.

The Mr Bean star spoke at a parliamentary reception on Tuesday calling on officials to alter section 5.1 of the 1986 Public Order Act, which outlaws insulting words and behaviour, which could cause "harassment, alarm or distress".

Atkinson said: "Criticism, ridicule, sarcasm, merely stating an alternative point of view to the orthodoxy, can be interpreted as insult."

The campaign against the law follows the arrest of a Christian preacher, a critic of Scientology and a student making a joke, as police are accused of being over-zealous in their interpretation of the Act.

Atkinson’s concern is for “more vulnerable lower profile” people such as a 16-year old boy held for having a placard which said “Scientology is a dangerous cult” and gay rights advocates detained for protesting against Islamic fundamentalists.

The repeal of Section 5 would “rewind the culture of censoriousness,” according to the star at the Westminster launch of the campaign.

Atkinson was joined by Lord Dear, former chief constable of West Midlands Police and David Davis, former shadow home secretary. The campaign already received support from an extraordinary alliance of disparate groups, including the Christian Alliance, The National Secular Society, Big Brother Watch, The Freedom Association and The Peter Tatchell Foundation.