The Police sensed that ridicule was just around the corner and withdrew their actions.
But what about the thousands of other cases that did not enjoy the oxygen of publicity? That weren't quite ludicrous enough to attract media attention?
Even for those actions that were withdrawn, people were arrested, questioned, taken to court and then released.
That isn't a law working properly: that is censoriousness of the most intimidating kind, guaranteed to have, as Lord Dear says, a 'chilling effect' on free expression and free protest.
Parliament's Joint committee on Human Rights summarized, as you may know, this whole issue very well by saying 'While arresting a protestor for using threatening or abusive speech may, depending on the circumstances, be a proportionate response,
we do not think that language or behaviour that is merely insulting should ever be criminalized in this way.'
The clear problem with the outlawing of insult is that too many things can be interpreted as such.
Criticism is easily construed as insult by certain parties.
Ridicule is easily construed as insult.
Sarcasm, unfavourable comparison, merely stating an alternative point of view to the orthodoxy can be interpreted as insult.
And because so many things can be interpreted as insult, it is hardly surprising that so many things have been, as the examples I talked about earlier show.
Although the law under discussion has been on the statute book for over 25 years, it is indicative of a culture that has taken hold of the programmes of successive governments that,
with the reasonable and well-intended ambition to contain obnoxious elements in society, has created a society of an extraordinarily authoritarian and controlling nature.
That is what you might call The New Intolerance, a new but intense desire to gag uncomfortable voices of dissent.
‘I am not intolerant', say many people; say many softly spoken, highly educated, liberal-minded people: 'I am only intolerant of intolerance'.
And people tend to nod sagely and say 'Oh, wise words, wise words'
and yet if you think about this supposedly inarguable statement for longer than five seconds, you realize that all it is advocating is the replacement of one kind of intolerance with another.
Which to me doesn't represent any kind of progress at all.
Underlying prejudices, injustices or resentments are not addressed by arresting people: they are addressed by the issues being aired, argued and dealt with preferably outside the legal process.