Two men jailed for offences linked with race hate website
It has come up a few times that people are prosecuted for posts on foreign sites. The UK claims jurisdiction over activities 'controlled' by individuals or companies residing in the the UK. If someone is living in the UK and 'controls' a website
hosted abroad then they are liable for prosecution in the UK over the contents or activities of that website.
It is difficult to make much sense of the sentence without knowing how it is broken down. Nor is it clear what material was being posted, but the description 'insulting' is a bit mild sounding.
Two men have been jailed after becoming the first in the UK to be convicted of inciting racial hatred via a foreign website.
Simon Sheppard received four years and 10 months, and Stephen Whittle two years and four months. The men printed leaflets and controlled US websites featuring racist material.
They fled to the US after being convicted at Leeds Crown Court last year, but failed in an asylum bid.
Sheppard was found guilty of 11 offences and Whittle was found guilty of five offences at a trial in July last year. Sheppard was convicted of a further five charges in January 2009.
Leeds Crown Court was told Whittle wrote offensive articles that were then published on the internet by Sheppard. The published material included images of murdered Jews alongside cartoons and articles ridiculing ethnic groups.
Judge Rodney Grant said: These are serious offences. I can say without any hesitation that I have rarely seen, or had to read or consider, material which is so abusive and insulting... towards racial groups within our own society.
The investigation into Sheppard began when a complaint about a leaflet, called Tales of the Holohoax , was reported to police in 2004 after it was pushed through the door of a synagogue in Blackpool. It was traced back to a post office box
in Hull registered to Sheppard. Humberside Police later found a website featuring racially inflammatory material.
The pair thought that they could circumvent English law because their website was hosted in the US.
This looks like a outlawing of holocaust denial via the back door.
It also is a tightening up on existing standards of freedom of expression. The moment you voice anything abusive or insulting you're taking a step closer to jail.
Billy Connelly, Frankie Boyle and Roy Chubby Brown better take note. They are inches away from being outlawed.
I'm sorry, but in my mind's eye, we're hitting a serious wall here.
Just recently we've had a guy sentenced to one and a half years of supervision and re-education meetings for being curious about an aspect of bizarre adult sexuality.
Now we've just had a guy sentenced to four and a half years in jail for not liking Jews and saying as much.
I have at times myself been the man with the wrong face and name in the wrong place, so I'm no friend to prejudice and xenophobia of any kind. But I've always understood that the price of freedom is to let those of an opposing opinion speak. This
includes narrow-minded people with little more than hate between their ears.
Yet it seems these days - especially with this government - argument is being closed down (just look what they allow for debate in the commons!) and instead bans and prohibitions are the preferred norm. Who needs Perikles or
Cicero if you can just ban anyone from making wrong choices?
I really think we are witnesses to something very bad happening here, people.
The men who became the first to be convicted of inciting racial hatred online are to petition the Supreme Court for leave to appeal against the convictions.
The move by Stephen Whittle, along with Simon Sheppard follows the decision of the Court of Appeal Criminal Division to certify three points of law in the case - although it denied permission to appeal, meaning the pair have to petition the Supreme Court
Lawyers for the two men confirmed that they would be filing petitions with the Supreme Court. The case will raise important issues about whether material placed on the internet counts as written material, and whether the courts have jurisdiction in cases
involving material posted online from abroad.
Sheppard was convicted of 16 offences and Whittle of 5. In January the Court of Appeal rejected their appeals against conviction, but reduced Sheppard's sentence of four years and 10 months by a year and Stephen Whittle's term of two years and four
months by six months.
The Court has now certified three issues in the case as a point of law of general public importance. These cover whether a document stored in a computer memory and/or displayed on a screen is written material within the meaning of Section 29 of the
Public Order Act 1986, the issue of the correct test of jurisdiction for criminal cases involving or arising from the use of the internet, and whether, for the purposes of Section 19 of the Public Order Act 1986, making material generally accessible or
available to placing or offering it to the public via the internet counts as publication to the public or a section of the public.