Symon Hill was in Oxford on 11th September. The 45-year-old hadn’t intended to protest that day but, while walking around the city, he found himself in the middle of the royal proclamation. “Who elected him?” he called out from the crowd as the Prince of Wales was being declared King Charles III.
In Hill’s description of what happened, he said he was given confused accounts by the police about why he was being arrested. He was later told he had been arrested under the Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Act 2022, for actions likely to lead to “harassment or distress”. According to Hill, a couple of people told him to “shut up”, but there were no signs of distress. A Thames Valley police spokesperson told The Guardian: “[Hill] has subsequently been de-arrested and is engaging with us voluntarily as we investigate a public order offence. The man was arrested on suspicion of a public order offence [under section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986].”
He’s not the only one who’s been penalised for anti-monarchy statements. Police Scotland said a 22-year-old man and a 52-year-old man were arrested in connection with a breach of peace in Edinburgh on Monday 12th. A 22-year-old woman who held a sign saying “Fuck imperialism, abolish monarchy” was also arrested moments before the proclamation on Sunday, and has been charged. In London, barrister Paul Powlesland claimed he held up a blank piece of paper in Parliament Square, and an officer came over and asked for his details. “He confirmed that if I wrote ‘Not My King’ on it, he would arrest me under the Public Order Act because someone might be offended,” Powlesland tweeted.
Speaking to The Guardian, Jodie Beck, policy and campaigns officer at advocacy group Liberty, said: “The number of cases we have seen in the last couple of days comes at a time when the police have just been given a bunch of new powers, which range from being able to impose conditions on public assemblies and moving protests or act in the case of other gatherings which are viewed to have created lots of noise.”
Below, we spoke to Hill about his experience of getting arrested, whether he’s had further contact from the police, and the fallout since the proclamation.
What happened when you were arrested?
I don’t think the police knew what they were doing, really. There were a couple of people there, two men who weren’t anti-monarchy, but I think were there just to listen to the proclamation. They started challenging the police, saying, “I don’t agree with him, but surely he’s got a right to his view in a free country.” I was put in the back of a police van in handcuffs and driven off to the police station which, as chance would have it, was a few yards away in central Oxford. But then I wasn’t taken inside, I was kept outside in the van while the police talked on their radios and decided what to do with me. Which, again, I think is a clue that they weren’t sure of the legal basis for arresting me.
They said they wanted to interview me. I said I wanted to have a lawyer present. I think they just couldn’t be bothered with the faff at that point, because they said they’d de-arrest me, but that I’d be contacted and asked to give an interview at a later date, and I could still be charged. And then they drove me home in the van.
Have you had any further contact from the police?
They’ve said in their statements to the media that I’m cooperating with them voluntarily. I don’t know what they mean by that. I haven’t had any contact with them since they released me. I was reasonably polite to them, I gave the minimum personal information I’m required to give – name, address and date of birth. But that’s the only cooperation I’ve had with them.
Whenever journalists have got in touch with the Thames Valley Police and asked for a comment about my arrest, the police have said I was arrested under the Public Order Act 1986. So the police don’t even seem to know why they arrested me, which is quite worrying, because that’s kind of, like, arbitrary arrests, you know? There needs to be due process and clear grounds for an arrest.
How have you found the response online to your arrest?
I’ve mostly had supportive messages, some comments from people who disagree with me about the monarchy, but still support my right to free speech and say it was wrong to arrest me. And I really appreciate that. Some disagree with me but are willing to do so constructively. Then, inevitably, some abusive messages saying I was dishonouring the Queen. Some people accused me of interrupting an act of mourning, which I didn’t do at all. I wouldn’t interrupt anything about grief for the previous monarch. And then, you know, the odd message saying I should be hanged for treason or sent to the Tower of London, which is just silly.
But what does upset me is it being said on the internet that I interrupted a service of mourning for the Queen. I wouldn’t interrupt an act of grief, whoever it’s for. It just isn’t something I’d do. There have also been some weird conspiracy theories, people accusing me of not actually having been arrested at all, of having made it all up, despite the police actually giving the media a statement saying I was arrested. But on the whole I’ve been really moved by the level of support. And actually, a lot of people who get arrested unfairly don’t get this level of coverage or interest. I think those people’s rights are every bit as important. This isn’t about me, it’s about everybody’s freedoms, and the need for the police and state to be accountable.
What are your own thoughts about the monarchy and the accession of the new King?
A lot of people are grieving, and I respect the grief that people feel. But, after 70 years of one person in that role, and now in a very different world to where we were 70 years ago, surely it’s a time to think: what sort of future do we want? Do we want a monarchy? Can we have a debate about the future? Do we want to have a referendum on the monarchy? And, yet, Charles is declared King the moment that Elizabeth died. Monarchists would say, well that’s how monarchy works. And it is, but actually, we don’t have to do that. You know, this is the 21st century – we can decide to do things differently.
The grief that people naturally feel about Elizabeth’s death is being misused to stifle any debate about the rightness of Charles Windsor being declared King. The fact that Parliament’s been suspended because of it at a time when there’s a cost of living crisis, and people are frightened about whether they’ll be able to afford to heat their homes in the winter… There’s a new prime minister who should be held to account – Liz Truss has got a free pass because the media are barely noticing what she’s doing in her first few weeks in office.
Does it make you feel concerned about freedom of speech?
I think we really shouldn’t be accepting this sudden imposition of a new head of state without any debate. I mean, my own view is that the monarchy is antiquated, that we shouldn’t give someone a job just because of who their ancestors were. And you know, the idea of one human bowing down to another and calling them “Your Majesty,” I just find that sickening. How can people demean themselves like that? Let’s treat each other with respect, as equal human beings. I accept other people have different views, and I’m happy to discuss that with them. But I’m not happy for all discussion [on becoming a republic] to be shut down.
If we saw news of a country on the other side of the world, where a new head of state had been proclaimed there, because that person was the son of the person who’d done it before, and the people who disagreed were arrested, I think we’d have a particular view of what sort of country that might be. At the moment, that country is Britain.