1. Governance
March 3, 2016updated 26 Apr 2022 8:39am

Council twats ban swearing at Salford Quays

By Jonn Elledge

Oh for fuck’s sake. What ludicrous, unenforceable bullshit have those bureaucratic cunts come up with now?

From the Manchester Evening News:

A council has been accused of taking the p*** – by trying to outlaw SWEARING in the streets at a posh docklands development.

Salford council has brought in a Public Space Protection Order to cover the Quays area in a bid to curb anti-social behaviour.

Part of the order says it will be deemed a criminal offence if anyone is caught “using foul and abusive language”.

Cracking down on this sort of thing is a decent enough notion in theory: if you were having a nice walk through Salford Quays, only for a complete stranger to scream, “No, fuck you!” in your face, then that would seem pretty anti-social.

But there’s a problem here. See if you can guess what it is.

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…the order fails to give any guidance on which words will be considered “foul and abusive” enough to constitute a criminal offence.

Anyone breaching the conditions faces an on-the-spot fine.


What kind of swears might get you a fine is not exactly clear. Expletives generally break down pretty neatly into three groups: they relate to sex, bodily functions or religion. As Sam Leith once noted when reviewing a history of swearing for the Guardian: “Really, this book should have been called ‘Holy Fucking Shit’.”

But which of those categories – and which words within them – are most profane has often been subject to change. Blasphemy, which would once have got you a stint in the stocks, is now seen as largely inoffensive. Meanwhile the venerable old English word “cunt”, which Geoffrey Chaucer cheerfully used as a quaint source of puns, is now seen as the very worst word of all. All too often, offence is in the ears of the listener as much as the mouth of the speaker.

But that’s fine, because Salford council will obviously be doing their best to clarify all this, right? Rosie Brighouse, a legal officer with civil liberties campaign group Liberty, wrote in to ask:

“Does the language have to be both foul and abusive to breach the PSPO, or is its purpose to ban both language that is foul but not abusive, and language that is abusive but not foul?

“What is the difference between language that is foul and language that is abusive?

“What legal test will be applied to determine whether language is foul and/or abusive?

“If someone uses foul and/or abusive language in the area covered by the PSPO, but there is no one present to hear it, will that amount to a criminal offence?”

The city council hasn’t answered those questions, at least publicly (which is a bit of a bummer for anyone planning to pop over to Salford and swear). But it did give the Manchester Evening News this statement:

“Liberty are fully aware that breach of a PSPO is only an offence if a person does a prohibited act without a reasonable excuse. That allows all the circumstances to be taken into account.

“I appreciate Liberty want publicity for their campaign against these orders but Salford City Council is not going to apologise for using national legislation to help Salford residents when their lives are being made a misery by anti-social behaviour.”

This, despite the weirdly exasperated tone, seems rather to be missing the point. The problem is not that battling against anti-social behaviour is bad – it’s that the law should always be clear.

At the moment, it’s very, very unclear what would constitute an offence under this order. And the fact people haven’t been nicked en masse for loud uses of the word “fuck” since the order was put in place last August does not mean that they won’t be in future. “Allowing” circumstances to be taken into account is not the same as guaranteeing it.

A map, showing Salford Quays (bottom left) relative to Manchester city centre. Click to expand. Image: Google.

The ban covers the Salford Quays area, which is near Manchester United’s football ground at Old Trafford. It also contains the Lowry arts centre and Media City UK. Luckily, football fans, arts professionals and journalists are three groups of people who are famously unlikely to swear.

Anyway, activist and comedian Mark Thomas is playing The Lowry, and

…has prepared a list of words he intends to use which he is sending to the council – to see if they breach the order.

Fucking hell. This should be fun.

Jonn Elledge edits CityMetric and tweets.

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