A police advert encouraging the public to report suspected terrorists has been banned for potentially causing “serious offence” to law-abiding citizens, a watchdog has said.
The radio advert for the Anti-Terrorist Hotline listed “suspicious” behaviour worth reporting to the police as: “The man at the end of the street doesn’t talk to his neighbours much, because he likes to keep himself to himself. He pays with cash because he doesn’t have a bank card, and he keeps his curtains closed because his house is on a bus route.”
It continued: “This may mean nothing, but together it could all add up to you having suspicions. We all have a role to play in combating terrorism. If you see anything suspicious call the confidential Anti-Terrorist Hotline. If you suspect it, report it.”
The campaign by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) drew 18 complaints, including 10 from listeners who said it was offensive for encouraging people to report law-abiding citizens who acted in the ways described.
Others said it could encourage people to harass or victimise their neighbours and made an undue appeal to fear.
The Metropolitan Police (MPS), on behalf of Acpo, said the advert addressed the issue that terrorists lived within communities, “and sometimes what appeared to be an insignificant behaviour could potentially be linked to terrorist activities”.
The behaviour listed in the advert was based on trends identified by police and had been included in evidence given at recent terrorism trials, the service said.
Talksport, which broadcast the avert, said the script avoided stereotyping and made no appeals to prejudice, instead focusing on activities which “together” could “add up” to indicating illegal activity.
The MPS added that the purpose of the campaign was not to raise fear or paranoia but to raise awareness of the hotline in the context of the current “severe” threat level from international terrorism.
The Advertising Standards Authority said the ad could describe the behaviour of a number of law-abiding people within a community.