A twist in the tale of the man arrested for not smiling at the Olympics
Padraig Reidy: A twist in the tale of the man arrested for not smiling at the Olympics
10 Aug 12

Index on Censorship has not exactly been shy in its criticism of the control-freakish atmosphere of the Olympics. Nor have we held back criticisms of the misuse and abuse of the UK’s Public Order Act.

So you would have thought that the story of Mark Worsfold, allegedly arrested for looking a bit glum at the Olympic cycling road race would have been something we would have jumped on. Mr Worsfold, a martial arts instructor, has difficulty moving his facial muscles due to Parkinson’s disease.

But there seemed something not quite right about the national papers’ reporting of the whole thing — partly down to Worsfold’s own apparent hesitance to criticise the police — the local paper reported that despite his five hours in custody, Mr Worsfold was keen to see the “funny side” of the incident.

Over at Harry’s Place, blogger amie has an interesting take on what happened, claimed to be based on a chance meeting with Mark Worsfold’s brother at the Olympic Park in London. Amie says the following is Worsfold’s brother’s account of the arrest:

Mark had served in Northern Ireland and appreciates full well the stresses involved in assessing responses in tense situations. He was concerned that the newspaper reports (It was in the Guardian as well) were reflecting this as a case of police brutality which, if the full background were known, it would be apparent it was not.

The group of protesters near where he was standing were from Fathers 4 Justice [groan from my Family Law lecturer sister sitting alongside me]. To make matters worse, a woman protester next to him trying to join the other demonstrators and who was haranguing the police as imperialist lackeys, etc, looked as if she was with him.

“This is all going to kick off” he thought, and he needed to get to his daughter’s birthday. With that he jumped off the wall to leave. Bad move, worse timing, open to misinterpretation. When he was jumped on, he tried to say he had been to a Taekwondo demonstration and needed to get to his daughter. What the police heard, in the presumably noisy environment, (said the brother), was “demonstration” and “getting to his daughter” — a reasonable impression of a Father 4 justice with access issues.

He would be grateful if I could convey to others a more rounded perspective.

This version of events certainly doesn’t mean Mr Worsfold isn’t owed an apology, or that our Public Order Act is not misused ridiculously and sometimes disturbingly. But it’s useful, nevertheless, to put reporting of the exercise of Public Order powers in context.

By Padraig Reidy

Padraig Reidy is the editor of Little Atoms and a columnist for Index on Censorship. He has also written for The Observer, The Guardian, and The Irish Times.