11 July 2023

We deserve more than the woeful response to Sarah Jane Baker’s ‘punch Terfs’ rant


The Metropolitan Police’s women problem just won’t go away.

Over the weekend, a trans woman with a violent history as a male appeared at the London Trans Pride festival. Sarah Jane Baker addressed a large crowd with a microphone and told them: ‘…if you see a Terf, punch them in the f*cking face.’ The audience roared their approval. The moment was caught on film. The police, standing by, did nothing at all.

The targets of this invitation to assault are gender-critical (GC) women who are referred to, often pejoratively, as ‘trans-exclusionary radical feminists’ or ‘Terfs’. It’s a catch-all term that comprises any woman who argues that biological sex is immutable and advocates for the sex-based rights of women and girls. While they should receive no special rights to not be argued against, or even insulted, in a liberal democracy our society remains free because there are some limits to free expression – including the right to be protected from incitement to violence.

Trans rights activists persistently claim that the gender critical lobby wants to ‘silence’ or even erase them. This is the thin end of a sometimes plainly deranged wedge that extends, when offered the slightest resistance, to accusations that there is a ‘genocidal’ campaign against a highly vulnerable and marginalised group.

But the facts speak for themselves. When gender-critical women assemble in public to discuss their rights and advance views that have been held by the courts to be legitimate beliefs, they invariably have to be protected by police officers from counter protests that are characterised by mainly male trans ‘allies’ screaming abuse at them and threatening violence. It is an extraordinary, and chilling turn of events in the 21st century, when lately emancipated women protesting over their rights to single sex spaces are greeted with cries of ‘Nazi scum off our streets’ by young men incoherent with rage and misogyny.

Anger and misogyny certainly seemed evident in Saturday’s remarks from Sarah Jane Baker. For those unfamiliar with her back story, as Alan Baker she served 30 years in custody before her release in 2019. Originally serving a seven-year sentence for the kidnap and torture of a male relative, Baker had a life sentence added to that for the attempted murder of another prisoner by strangulation. In 2017, Baker claims to have removed her own testicles with a razor blade, because of an apparent refusal by prison officials to treat her gender dysphoria. By her own admission, she had multiple rejected applications to the Parole Board before her final release was granted. The 53-year-old also claims that she has been diagnosed with a personality disorder and has problems with impulsivity.

This adds up to a profile of someone who has endured and used extreme interpersonal violence over a prolonged period in custody, whose riskiness in terms of public protection was so great she was kept in prison long after her ‘tariff’ – the minimum period of time a prisoner must spend in custody before being able to apply for release – had expired.

On release, Baker will have been put under the mandatory supervision of a probation officer. Those who are convicted of a life sentence – the most serious sanction available to the court – are never wholly free. They are released on ‘life licence’, a set of restrictions that can be quite draconian but will always include some requirements including ‘to be of good behaviour’ and to ‘not commit any offences’. Offenders supervised in the community who break their licences can be subject to recall to prison. So, even if the Met initially saw nothing criminal about Baker’s behaviour at the Trans Pride parade, the bar is normally set much lower for probation supervision.

There are many unanswered questions here, but it’s worth dwelling on the woeful email response from the Met Police to a complaint made after Baker’s outburst went viral on social media. The first problem is that it was dealt with not by a senior figure, in consultation with the Met’s press office, but by an acting sergeant at Charing Cross station. It beggars belief that such a junior officer was left to manage a complaint that was bound to attract huge coverage, and in doing so put another nail in the Met’s reputation when it comes to women’s issues.

Given this hospital pass, the sergeant inevitably fumbled the ball. Apparently, Baker’s behaviour did not engage legislation – the Public Order Act designed to criminalise threatening or abusive words or behaviour – because her words were not directed at an individual and in any case were ‘hypothetical’. The more serious offence of incitement to hatred wasn’t even considered, which is odd given the national police overreach on hate crime directed at almost any other group of people.

Moreover, the initial response claims that Baker’s behaviour is protected under the European Convention on Human Rights as enacted in UK Law in the Human Rights Act. The article quoted in the sergeant’s email refers to the right to free expression and seems to imply that this is an absolute right in defence of doing nothing further with the complaint. In fact, it is a conditional right and can be interfered with in the interests of public protection – a fact that must have passed by the officers watching Baker incite violence on the day.

The response also makes the bizarre statement that Terf is not a ‘protected characteristic’ – a trait given special protection in law – without understanding that all human beings are endowed with at least one of these based on sex. And in any case, ‘Terf’ views are recognised by the court as protected under the characteristic of religion or belief as legitimate philosophical ideas. It’s really no wonder that such an inadequate, not to say legally illiterate, response led to the Met reopening the investigation yesterday afternoon.

But the spotlight should remain on Baker’s supervision in the community. The gender-critical campaigning organisation ‘Sex Matters’ has claimed in a letter to the Met Commissioner that Baker’s behaviour since her release, in attending various protests shows evidence of ‘heightened risk’. They contend that she is a threat to women and girls and has now used a platform to encourage assault against women, with a pitifully slow and inadequate response by authorities.

Now, the Met’s job is to catch criminals, including those who they’d rather not touch with a bargepole. But the probation service is charged with managing Baker’s risk in the community. How is it possible that a deeply damaged person with such a risky profile for extreme violence and unpredictable behaviour has been allowed to act with such impunity for so long without any form of sanction? It’s time for some answers.

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Ian Acheson is an adviser to the Counter-Extremism Project.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.