The police have now apologised for the actions of an overzealous officer, and pledged to delete all the information that was taken. The French magazine went on sale in the UK in early January because of a massacre at its Paris headquarters by Islamist gunmen of 10 members of staff and two police officers, which led to a surge in demand abroad for the issue, which featured a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed.
The matter came to light after a letter to the Guardian joked about the paper offering commemorative badges in solidarity with the murdered staff. "Your offer of commemorative badges in support of journalistic freedom highlighting “Je suis Charlie”, prompts me to suggest a degree of caution following my experience," wrote Anne Keat of Corsham, Wiltshire. "Tongue in cheek, I asked my helpful newsagents to obtain a copy of the edition of Charlie Hebdo issued after the dreadful massacre in Paris, if indeed a copy was ever available in north Wiltshire.
A person buys a copy of the latest edition of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris
"To my surprise, a copy arrived last Wednesday week and although the standard of content in no way matches that of the Guardian I will cherish it. However, two days later a member of Her Majesty’s police service visited said newsagent, requesting the names of the four customers who had purchased Charlie Hebdo. So beware, your badges may attract police interest in your customers."
The police action prompted a worried reaction on social media.
"Following the terrorism incident in Paris, France on 7 January 2015, Wiltshire Police undertook an assessment of community tensions across the county. As part of this work, local sector policing teams were asked to be mindful of business premises, in particular newsagents who may be distributing the Charlie Hebdo magazine and to consider that these shops may be vulnerable.
"There was no specific threat nationally and nothing to suggest newsagents in particular would be vulnerable. A police officer visited a local shop and post office in Corsham to make an assessment of community tensions and, if appropriate, encourage the newsagent’s owner to be vigilant.
"During this conversation the officer requested information about subscribers to the Charlie Hebdo magazine. Wiltshire Police would like to apologise to the members of public who may be affected by this. Information relating to this specific incident has been permanently and securely disposed of.
"Wiltshire Police are confident that the police officer’s intention was purely around enhancing public safety and ensuring that the newsagent was advised appropriately."
An employee of Hawthorn Stores said the store would not comment on any police visit.
Speaking to the Guardian on Monday, Keat said it was “ridiculous” that police officers had asked for her details, but she said she didn’t think it was a big deal.
Keat told the Guardian on Monday she had not been particularly perturbed. “The reason I sent the letter to the Guardian was not so much the police – although that was an element of it – it was that on Saturday you advertised two badges to do with Charlie Hebdo. If the police visit because I bought Charlie Hebdo, what are they going to do if everyone starts buying these badges?”
On Sunday in central London hundreds of demonstrators denounced the depictions of the Prophet Muhammad printed Charlie Hebdo, with a petition handed into 10 Downing Street by a group of Islamic leaders. A counter-demonstration took place led by nationalist group Britain First with a small number of attendees.