Free speech goes underground: the London Tube-worker apparently sacked for criticising George Floyd
Did you know it is now a sackable offence, as a part of British employment law, to criticise George Floyd in the United Kingdom? That would be the only conclusion a legal layman like myself would be able to draw from an Employment Tribunal held in St Albans last November, the final judgement for which has now been released.
Tracey Webb, a duty trains manager on the London Underground subway system of 32 years unblemished service, was removed from her job after being alleged to have posted “offensive and inflammatory comments” about Mr Floyd on Facebook in June 2020, following his death the previous month.
At first glance, media reports would appear to suggest Ms Webb won her case, being awarded £7,284 by the presiding judge, Richard Wood. However, Judge Wood did not rule her employers were incorrect to sack Webb for her “crime”, merely that the specific internal procedures the law said they should have followed when dismissing her were not quite adhered to.
Thus, the Tribunal’s ruling Webb was unfairly dismissed came purely as a technicality. Webb’s wider claim that her sacking itself was unfair and the result of racial discrimination against her on account of her white skin was dismissed as being wholly without merit.
Disrespecting the dead
Examination of the Tribunal’s judgement itself reveals some extremely disturbing judicial reasoning about what an employee apparently is and is not now allowed to say not only inside a British workplace, but also outside it. Webb’s Facebook page was her personal private one, but various co-workers at the Seven Sisters Underground depot in North London where she worked also had access to it, causing problems.
When, following the numerous “fiery but mostly peaceful protests” [i.e. race-riots] which spread worldwide in the wake of Floyd’s death, Webb made some posts critical of both George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement, several of her co-employees took offence. Some complained to Webb’s superiors; others messaged Webb back online, often in an equally insulting fashion.
Initially, Webb simply reposted a popular meme consisting of a photo of Floyd, complaining “the media and the left” had falsely made Floyd into “a martyr”. There then followed a long list of Floyd’s many alleged criminal convictions down the decades for drug-related offences and armed robbery. Webb added her own comment, saying Floyd “never deserved to be murdered”, but he “really was not a nice guy”, a view which, you may have thought, was simply a matter of opinion (one I tend to share myself, incidentally).
A further post referred to the nationally infamous murder and attempted public beheading of Drummer Lee Rigby by two black Islamists on the streets of London nine years earlier: “On 22 May 2013, no-one rioted in the UK when two black men hacked Lee Rigby to death. Its time to bring back the death penalty. Where were you [i.e. the BLM protestors] then? “All lives matter”.”
Later responding to another individual who had cautioned her against sharing such sentiments online, Webb referred to a 2007 incident in which Mr Floyd had held up and robbed a woman in her own home: “I know the person I am. Not afraid to call scum scum … ‘n that not due to colour race sex or creed. So wrong he [Floyd] died. But I for one am not sorry his no longer here to hold a gun to another pregnant ladies stomach while robbing her in his [i.e. ‘her’] own house.”
Apart from the spelling and grammar, the only specific inaccuracy in the post above is that the woman Floyd held up with a gun was not pregnant at the time; again, whether or not the crime makes Floyd into “scum”, as Webb bluntly asserted, is merely a matter of subjective opinion.
This was Webb’s main defence at the Tribunal: that she was merely speaking her mind, on her own personal, non-work-affiliated social media account, and that the right to freedom of expression under such circumstances was guaranteed by Articles 8 and 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), as incorporated into English law by the Human Rights Act 1998.
According to Webb’s interpretation, she had been denied these rights and treated differently from the co-workers who had responded to her initial posts by using crude terms online themselves simply because she was white and several of them were not, in further alleged contravention of the UK-only Equalities Act 2010, in which discrimination against an employee on terms of race or skin-colour is specifically made illegal.
As some of these co-workers had used potentially inflammatory racially-tinged phrases, as well as insulting Ms Webb for being an apparent mid-life convert to lesbianism (at least as far as I can tell from limited media reports on the case), she found it inconsistent that none of them had been sacked, merely been subjected to comparatively minor “suitable informal management advice” on an internal basis.
Webb’s employers at TfL (Transport for London) argued this was because the posts of the other employees were less inflammatory and arose in direct response to Webb’s initial BLM-related posts. Furthermore, these employees agreed to remove their posts and showed contrition, whereas Webb refused to back down and argued her right to free speech. Her legally guaranteed attempts to do so were regarded by TfL bosses with apparent bemusement.
You don’t get me, I’m part of the union
Webb was represented in the affair by a Mr Morris of the very small Workers of England (WEU) trade union. Unlike most of their current much larger left-wing competitors, the WEU appear proudly non-woke, announcing Webb’s likely award of compensation on their website in February 2023 by saying that “Finally there is a Union that is dedicated to defending the workers of England against ‘Cancel Culture’!” In the WEU’s view, TfL “had clearly not been robustly challenged by a trade union” like the WEU before, and so “were either unable or unwilling to answer the legal points the union put forward” about Webb’s right to freedom of speech.
This was also close to being Employment Judge Wood’s view, as expressed in his team’s official judgement. According to testimony from one of Webb’s TfL superiors, Webb’s union representative Mr Wood had argued to him that TfL’s internal policies on social media posts could not override the legally binding Human Rights Act 1998, nor the ECHR principles guaranteeing freedom of speech which it enshrined.
This was unreasonably interpreted by Webb’s superiors, however, as Wood being “absolutely intent [on] derailing the entire process” rather than, for example, a simple case of a union rep doing what he was supposed to do under such circumstances by arguing his client’s case on a legal basis rather than simply agreeing she had racially sinned and asking how soon TfL would like to now sack her.
As Judge Wood’s ruling correctly put it: “What concerned us about this [statement] was the reference to ‘derailing the entire process’. Surely ‘the process’ was to facilitate the claimant putting her case, whatever it may have been, and to respond to it accordingly.”
The overall impression gained from reading the account is that TfL were entirely accustomed to any employees accused of anything to do with alleged “racism” simply immediately rolling over and receiving their punishment immediately, like good little subaltern natives. That such an individual may instruct her representatives to actually defend her in such a case instead, appeared unthinkable – such is the extent to which autonomically induced race-related kowtowing is now embedded across the public sector of the UK.
According to a TfL representative, Webb and Morris “came to the [initial internal TfL] appeal with a confrontational and antagonistic approach, standing firmly on her right to free speech” – which, as far as can be told, appears to mean “they actually argued back!”
Yet, it seems Webb had principles. She has a mixed-race step-son from one of her current wife’s previous, non-lesbian relationships, and also has various other black relations. Thus, she considered herself not to be a racist, simply making a reasonable personal judgement that Mr Floyd was “scum” and the wider BLM rioters a dangerous rabble. Her mixed-race stepson seemed to be being primed by adulatory media coverage to feel “in awe” of Floyd as a “role-model” which, as Floyd was a proven drug-dealer and gun-wielder, Ms Webb did not think was appropriate. So, why should she apologise?
As Judge Wood concluded, the attitude of TfL appeared to demonstrate bosses had come to a prior conclusion Webb was guilty before the case had even been heard, as per their seeming view Webb should just admit her guilt and perform rituals of contrition. Therefore, her initial case before TfL was simply “a box-ticking exercise”, the outcome of which was wholly “predetermined”. It was on account of this procedural infelicity that Webb got her (rather measly) £7,284. So why didn’t she get her job back too?
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Comment is unfree
According to the Tribunal’s conclusion, there was “no doubt” that in disciplining and sacking Webb, TfL were “restricting” their employee’s freedom of speech, something ostensibly barred by Section 10 of the ECHR. There could be “no dispute” about this. What there could be dispute about, however, was whether or not TfL were justified in restricting this only superficially inalienable right.
Article 10 has a handy get-out clause to the effect that, as the Tribunal put it, “Comments which are inflammatory and/or offensive risk falling outside the parameters of free speech,” thus allowing Webb to be fired after all. But who gets to decide what these parameters are? The judges in charge of the Tribunal process, of course!
The Tribunal chose to accept that at least some of Ms Webb’s excuses for her posts did indeed represent her “conscious thinking” about such matters. Ah, but what about her unconscious thinking? We all know these days that Critical Race Theory (CRT) holds as an unshakable article of faith that white people can easily possess unconscious racial biases they know absolutely nothing about, thus allowing any single action they ever perform to be deemed somehow racist for those with eyes enlightened enough to see it.
Concerningly, what the eagle-eyed judges chose to define as being “inflammatory and/or offensive” here was, in part, Ms Webb’s presumed disagreement with the tenets of CRT, which seemed to be treated by the Tribunal as a matter of simple objective fact, as opposed to a highly debatable theory considered by many critics to be nothing more than a form of ideologically biased snake-oil:
“In choosing to focus on the criminal history of Mr Floyd [in her posts], rather than the circumstances of his death, and what it revealed about historic and systemic racism [in the West], she was choosing to ignore the important issue in a way which she knew, or ought to have known, would be offensive and provocative to many of her colleagues and friends.”
This would appear to imply that, within a contemporary UK employment law context, there is now only one single interpretation allowable of George Floyd’s death: namely, that he was not a long-term career criminal, but a perfectly innocent person, unjustifiably murdered by racist cops as part of a wider scheme of systemic racial oppression in place across the whole of Western society. To disagree would be “inflammatory and/or offensive”, and enough to get you sacked.
This is despite the fact that there is no specific evidence that Floyd’s convicted killer Derek Chauvin was motivated on racial grounds, merely that he acted in a reckless and legally unjustified manner when restraining him on the floor prior to arrest. This is shown by the fact that, during his trial, the prosecution at no point attempted to impute any racial or hate-based motive to Chauvin’s actions, something they would surely have done had the opportunity been available to them, given its obvious utility in gaining an easy conviction.
So, even though there is no proof Floyd was the victim of a specifically racist killing at all, still it was considered Ms Webb had been “choosing to ignore” this non-existent evidence – perhaps because it didn’t actually exist, it was just a constantly induced false political and media narrative which the Judges themselves had evidently also foolishly fallen for themselves.
Despite the Tribunal’s conviction that George Floyd was the victim of “systemic racial oppression” being in itself essentially faith-based, they further criticised Ms Webb for stating her posts were “factually correct” when in fact this was not so.
Apparently, “she had not done any research into George Floyd’s criminal history. She had simply seen some detail about it on the news” and “seemed to get most of her ‘news’ from Facebook or other social media outlets.” Given the “potentially inflammatory and offensive nature” of her posts, it was thus considered Webb “displayed a reckless disregard” for the effect they may have upon her colleagues.
Crimes against truth
But what research did the Tribunal judges perform into the events of Mr Floyd’s death themselves? I have no idea, but they could seem to some casual observers’ eyes to have credulously or cravenly adopted the popular mainstream media narrative of the BBC, New York Times, Guardian, et al, that George Floyd was a kind of living saint, whose many brushes with the law (if acknowledged at all) were the indisputable automatic result of that conveniently invisible phantom of systemic racism, rather than, for example, the inevitable consequence of him repeatedly breaking the law.
A write-up of Floyd’s criminal record on snopes.com, for example, once an excellent site for debunking urban legends, but now an ideologically captured outlet for rewriting obvious but inconvenient truths along approved left-wing lines, tried to place Floyd’s many crimes into their “correct” social context (i.e. to systematically absolve him of them and blame a systemically white racist society for them all instead), but even they had to admit he had been arrested on nine separate occasions between 1997 and 2007 in his home-State of Texas, for crimes like possession of drugs with intent to supply, theft, and criminal trespass – including once holding up a woman with a gun in her own home as part of a violent gang-robbery.
As Webb said, Floyd “really was not a nice guy”, at least not when out and about robbing women in their own homes. Yet, even today, in spite of the blanket coverage given to Floyd’s death, there are plenty of people (probably the majority) who don’t realise any of this happened – because they rely purely on the mainstream media for their knowledge of the case, who are not exactly eager to emphasise such awkward facts about Floyd’s history. Were the Tribunal Judges amongst them?
Not only did the Tribunal presume to judge which news sources it was and was not allowable to consider as being ‘accurate’, however, they also ruled which issues of the day it was and was not allowable to hold strong opinions on: “We find that the claimant was not inadvertently expressing offensive views about George Floyd and the BLM movement, but was making a deliberate “stand”, appreciating the impact it was having [on other co-workers].”
To layman’s eyes like my own, the ultimate effect of the judgement appears to enact an “official” legal opinion UK employees must henceforth adhere to about both George Floyd and BLM, or risk being fired. When Webb at one point posted an image purporting (dubiously) to portray a black man who had murdered a white couple, the Tribunal argued that any such reference “misses the point of the BLM movement and the death of Mr Floyd, which is about systemic and historic oppression of those of colour.”
Do note that this is “the point”, singular; only one point is now allowable, all others are objectively incorrect. The presumable future effect of this ruling will be to provide a legal precedent allowing (or maybe even compelling!) employers to fire any employees who deviate from this officially approved line on BLM-related matters – and not only at work. Recall, the posts in question were made on Ms Webb’s personal Facebook page, not over the loudspeaker for the whole world to hear immediately prior to the departure of the 10.36 to Tower Hamlets.
Be woke, or go broke
Given Ms Webb was awarded £7,284 in compensation, many casual readers who come across her case in the newspapers and skim-read nothing beyond the first paragraph may presume she had actually won her case; the headline in the print version of the London Times (13 April 2023, p.19) was “Tube worker who called Floyd ‘scum’ wins payout”. In reality, she did not win her case at all – and freedom of speech in a wider sense certainly did not.
According to the Tribunal, “The right to freedom of speech must be vehemently protected. People do disagree, even about the most important issues. It is a defining characteristic of a democratic society that such exchanges of views can take place without fear of repercussion.” So why produce a judgement which will ensure the precise reverse of this outcome occurs, then?
Perhaps it is because, whilst “Those who wish to express views which are offensive must be free to do so”, according to self-contradictory ECHR legislation, other people also have the contrasting right not to be exposed to such views – for example, at work. Therefore, rather than debating these things openly, suggested the Tribunal, “There are other ways to have the debate with your close private circle of friends” instead.
Yes: at home, behind closed doors, with the windows shut and curtains drawn, after having thoroughly swept the area for bugs planted by Transport for London first. I am reminded of an old song lyric by The Clash: “You have the right to free speech/Just so long as you’re not dumb enough/To actually use it!”
Sadly for Tracey Webb, she was dumb enough to actually use it. The end result being, that she is now unemployed.
Steven Tucker is a UK-based writer with over ten books to his name. His next, Hitler’s & Stalin’s Misuse of Science, comparing the woke pseudoscience of today to the totalitarian pseudoscience of the past, will be published in summer 2023.
Image credit: munshots on Unsplash
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