Britain's first police unit for tackling supposed online hate crime has brought charges against less than 1% of the cases it has investigated.
Scotland Yard's online hate crime hub has logged 1,851 incidents since its launch in April 2017 and 17
cases, or 0.92%, resulted in charges. And of those seven have led to prosecutions, Freedom of Information figures show. There are three more cases pending a charging decision from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
The £1.7million scheme, launched
by London mayor Sadiq Khan, has however resulted in 59 being given youth referrals, harassment warnings or have been noted as apologising.
The Metropolitan Police said the £326,344 needed for the pilot year of the hub was funded by the Mayor's Office
for Policing and Crime (MOPAC). Following the trial, a unit of five officers led by a detective inspector was given a £323,829 budget for 2018/19 and £363,000 in 2019/20 by the police force.
Scotland Yard said the unit now deals with both online and
offline cases, reviewing every hate crime reported to the Met on a daily basis.
The low number of charges is thought to be due to the high CPS charging threshold for online hate, and the difficulties investigators face in obtaining information from
social media companies.
A musician found guilty of broadcasting grossly offensive anti-Semitic songs has had her conviction upheld.
Alison Chabloz has written many politically incorrect, humorous and insulting songs often targeted at jews but also more generally against the
PC establishment. The songs have been published on many internet platforms including YouTube.
In May she was convicted of three charges relating to the songs and was given a suspended jail sentence by magistrates which she appealed against.
A judge at Southwark Crown Court has upheld her conviction ruling the content was particularly repellent. In the songs Chabloz suggested the Holocaust was a bunch of lies and referred to Auschwitz as a theme park.
Chabloz was convicted of two
counts of sending an offensive, indecent or menacing message through a public communications network and a third charge relating to a song on YouTube.
She was sentenced to 20 weeks' imprisonment, suspended for two years and banned from social
media for 12 months.
During the appeal Adrian Davies, defending, told judge Christopher Hehir: It would be a very, very strong thing to say that a criminal penalty should be imposed on someone for singing in polemical terms about matters on which
she feels so strongly.
The case started as a private prosecution by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism before the Crown Prosecution Service took over. The group's chairman, Gideon Falter, said: This is the first conviction in the UK over Holocaust
denial on social media.
People convicted of insulting people online should be named and shamed on a government register of offenders under new laws to censor social media, says an all-party committee of MPs.
The Commons petitions committee claimed new laws were needed to
combat online harms because current legislation was not fit for purpose and self-regulation by the social media firms had failed.
The committee was responding to a petition, backed by more than 220,000 people, from reality TV star and model Katie
Price who demanded new online laws and a register of offenders after her disabled son, Harvey, was viciously trolled for his condition, colour and size.
The MPs believe a criminal law, which covered online abuse and included proper recognition of
hate crimes against disabled people, will achieve what the petition is looking for from a register, as criminal convictions will show up as part of a Disclosure and Barring Service check, said the MPs.
The committee said a high proportion of
abusive content related to football with most shockingly the name of Harvey Price used by fans as an insult for someone's ability as a footballer.
The new head of the Police Federation John Apter, who represents 120,000 rank and file officers across England and Wales, has said his members were incredibly frustrated because they have been assigned to sorting out social media spats rather than
tackling more serious crimes like burglary.
The new head explained that while resourcing remained the main issue facing policing, there was also a lack of common sense when it came to priorities.
Last week it emerged that Yorkshire Police
had asked people to report insults on social media, even if they were not considered to be a hate crime. Other forces have been criticised recently for using computer programmes rather than experienced officers to decide whether a burglary is worth
investigating. Such initiatives have led to criticism of the police and the observation that the service is out of touch with the public.
But Apter said nobody was more frustrated than police officers when they were prevented from attending
burglaries and other serious crimes. Burglary is one of the most intrusive, horrible crimes that a householder can go through. It makes you feel incredibly vulnerable, but people can sometimes wait days for a police response, Apter said.
A man who suffered a miscarriage of justice after being convicted for a joke has been refused permission to appeal against a conviction for supposedly causing gross offence.
Mark Meechan, who blogs under the name Count Dankula, was fined £800
in April after being found guilty under the Communications Act over a video joke in which he trained his girlfriend's dog to perform Nazi salutes.
A letter from the court claimed the appeal was not arguable and in each of its elements is
wholly misconceived. It also dismissed arguments made by Meechan's lawyers over the judge's handling of witness evidence at Airdrie Sheriff Court in March and the meaning of grossly offensive. The letter said:
appeal against conviction is without merit. Likewise the appeal against sentence is not arguable -- this was a deeply unpleasant offence in which disgraceful and utterly offensive material was very widely distributed by the appellant, it said. This was
to the considerable distress of the community in question and -- just as disturbingly -- to the apparent approval of a large number of persons who appear to share the appellant's racist views.
Indeed it must be observed that in
the circumstance the appellant was fortunate that the learned sheriff was not considering custody as an option.
A woman has been convicted for performing offensive songs that included lyrics denying the Holocaust.
Alison Chabloz sang her compositions at a meeting of the far-right London Forum group.
A judge at Westminster Magistrates' Court found Chabloz
had violated laws criminalising offence and intended to insult Jewish people.
District judge John Zani delayed her sentencing until 14 June but told the court: On the face of it this does pass the custody threshold.
Chabloz, a Swiss-British
dual national, had uploaded tunes to YouTube including one defining the Nazi death camp Auschwitz as a theme park just for fools and the gas chambers a proven hoax. The songs remain available on YouTube.
The songs were partly set to traditional
Jewish folk music, with lyrics like: Did the Holocaust ever happen? Was it just a bunch of lies? Seems that some intend to pull the wool over our eyes.
Adrian Davies, defending, previously told the judge his ruling would be a landmark one, setting
a precedent on the exercise of free speech.
But Judge Zani said Chabloz failed by some considerable margin to persuade the court that her right to freedom of speech should provide her with immunity from prosecution. He said:
I am entirely satisfied that she will have intended to insult those to whom the material relates. Having carefully considered all evidence received and submissions made, I am entirely satisfied that the prosecution has proved beyond
reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty.
Chabloz was convicted of two counts of causing an offensive, indecent or menacing message to be sent over a public communications network after performing two songs at a London Forum
event in 2016. As there wa nothing indecent or menacing in the songs, Chabloz was convicted for an offensive message.
See The Britisher for an eloquent and passionate defence of free speech.
Sheriff O'Carroll had told the court he did not believe Meechan had made the video only to annoy his girlfriend and ruled it was anti-Semitic. Fining Meechan, he said:
You deliberately chose
the Holocaust as the theme of the video.
I also found it proved that the video contained anti-Semitic, and racist material, in that it explicitly and exclusively referred to Jews, the Holocaust and the role of the Nazis in the
death of six million Jews in a grossly offensive manner. You knew or must have known that.
The social work report on you is important. It is very favourable to you and, leaving aside the circumstances of this offence, shows you to
have led a generally pro-social life thus far.
It also shows that you have learned a certain amount from your experiences and that you are of low risk of reoffending.
In these circumstances, I rule out a
custodial sentence and therefore any alternative to a custodial sentence. You have a certain amount of income and other resources according to the reports. I now fine you the sum of 2£800.
Offsite Comment: Count
Dankula and the death of free speech
On freedom of speech, Britain has become the laughing stock of the Western world. People actually laugh at us. I recently gave a talk in Brazil on political correctness and I told the audience about the arrest and conviction of a Scottish man for
publishing a video of his girlfriend's pug doing a Nazi salute for a joke and they laughed. Loudly. Some of them refused to believed it was true.
A woman from Liverpool has been found guilty of sending a supposedly grossly offensive message after posting rap lyrics on Instagram.
The post referenced lyrics from Snap Dogg's I'm Trippin' to pay tribute to a 13-year-old boy who had died in a
road crash in 2017. It is not clear exactly which words were deemed to 'hate crimes' but the words 'bitch' and 'nigga' seem to be the only relevant candidates.
Merseyside Police were anonymously sent a screenshot of the woman's Instagram update
(on a public profile), which was received by hate crime unit PC Dominique Walker. PC Walker told the court the term the woman had used was grossly offensive to her as a black woman and to the general community.
The Liverpool Echo reported that the
woman's defence had argued the usage of the word had changed over time and it had been used by superstar rapper Jay-Z in front of thousands of people at the Glastonbury Festival.
The woman was given an eight-week community order, placed on an
eight-week curfew and fined £585.
Prosecutors said her sentence was increased from a fine to a community order as it was a 'hate crime'.
Offsite Comment: Now it's a crime to quote rap lyrics? Censorship in Britain is out of control.
Brendan O'Neill notes that these are the lyrics she quoted:
Off a whole gram of molly, and my bitch think I'm trippin. Now I'm clutchin' on my forty, all I can think about is drillin''. I hate fuck shit, slap a
bitch nigga, kill a snitch nigga, rob a rich nigga.'
We now live under a bizarre tyranny of self-esteem, where hurt feelings can lead to court cases, and where the easily offended
can marshal the state to crush those who dared to offend them. An unholy marriage between our wimpish offence-taking culture and a state desperate to be seen as caring and purposeful has nurtured an insidious new censorship that targets everything from
comedy and rap to criticism of Islam or strongly stated political views.
A man who filmed a pet dog giving Nazi salutes before putting the footage on YouTube has been convicted of committing a hate crime.
Mark Meechan recorded his girlfriend's pug, Buddha, responding to statements such as gas the Jews and Sieg Heil by
raising its paw.
It is interesting to note that the British press carefully avoided informing readers of Meechan's now well known Youtube name, Count Dankula.
The original clip had been viewed more than three million times on YouTube. It is
still online on Youtube albeit in restricted mode where it is not included in searches and comments are not accepted.
Meechan went on trial at Airdrie Sheriff Court where he denied any wrong doing. He insisted he made the video, which was posted
in April 2016, to annoy his girlfriend Suzanne Kelly, 29.
But Sheriff Derek O'Carroll found him guilty of a charge under the Communications Act that he posted a video on social media and YouTube which O'Carroll claimed to be grossly offensive
because it was anti-semitic and racist in nature and was aggravated by religious prejudice.
Meechan will be sentenced on 23rd April but has hinted in social media that court officials are looking into some sort of home arrest option.
Comedian Ricky Gervais took to Twitter to comment on the case after the verdict. He tweeted:
A man has been convicted in a UK court of making a joke that was deemed 'grossly offensive'. If you don't believe in a person's right to say things that you might find 'grossly offensive', then you don't believe in
Freedom of Speech.
Yorkshire MP Philip Davies has demanded a debate on freedom of speech. Speaking in the House of Commons, hesaid:
We guard our freedom of speech in this House very dearly
indeed...but we don't often allow our constituents the same freedoms. Can we have a debate about freedom of speech in this country - something this country has long held dear and is in danger of throwing away needlessly?
Leadsom, leader of the Commons, responded that there are limits to free speech:
I absolutely commend (Mr Davies) for raising this very important issue. We do of course fully support free speech ...HOWEVER... there are limits to it and he will be aware there are laws around what you are allowed to say and I don't know the circumstances of his specific point, but he may well wish to seek an adjournment debate to take this up directly with ministers.
Comment: Freedom of expression includes the right to offend
Index on Censorship condemns the decision by a
Scottish court to convict a comedian of a hate crime for teaching his girlfriend's dog a Nazi salute.
Mark Meechan, known as Count Dankula, was found guilty on Tuesday of being grossly offensive, under the UK's Communications Act
of 2003. Meechan could be sentenced with up to six months in prison and be required to pay a fine.
Index disagrees fundamentally with the ruling by the Scottish Sheriff Appeals Court. According to the Daily Record, Judge Derek
O'Carroll ruled: The description of the video as humorous is no magic wand. This court has taken the freedom of expression into consideration. But the right to freedom of expression also comes with responsibility. Defending everyone's right to free
speech must include defending the rights of those who say things we find shocking or offensive
Index on Censorship chief executive Jodie Ginsberg said: Numerous rulings by British and European courts have affirmed that freedom of
expression includes the right to offend. Defending everyone's right to free speech must include defending the rights of those who say things we find shocking or offensive. Otherwise the freedom is meaningless.
One of the most
noted judgements is from a 1976 European Court of Human Rights case, Handyside v. United Kingdom, which found: Freedom of expression206is applicable not only to 'information' or 'ideas' that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a
matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population.
Video Comment: Count Dankula has been found guilty
Talking to the press after the judgement, Meechan said today, context and intent were completely disregarded. He explained during the trial that he was not a Nazi and that he had posted the video to annoy his girlfriend. Sheriff Derek O'Carroll declared
the video anti-Semitic and racist in nature. He added that the accused knew that the material was offensive and knew why it was offensive. The original investigation was launched following zero complaints from the public. Offensiveness apparently depends
on the sensitivity of police officers and judges.
Joshua North, who was prosecuted by Humberside police with the help of counter-terror experts, has been cleared by a jury over his satirical Facebook post where he called for national batter gypos day. A costs order in North's favour will be made.
North had responded on Facebook after national news reported that travellers had caused trouble in Cleethorpes. North said he made the statement to mock other people's 'hateful comments'.
North said the case had led to almost two years of hell for
him and his family and noted that there was no investigation into my side of the story.
After he was cleared of inciting racial hatred Joshua North, from Cleethorpes, blasted the decision to prosecute him as
political correctness gone mad. He said:
I told the police, if you check all my other Facebook posts, it indicates that I'm very friendly to immigrants, other races and religions.
to prosecute was criticised by North's lawyer who said the case had been brought with 'the full force of the resources of the counter-terrorism unit'. He said:
I am disappointed that the prosecution, who had the full
force of the resources of the counter-terrorism unit behind them, did not at any point consider what kind of a person Joshua actually is.
Had they spent any time thinking about him, looking at his other posts or even considering
the possibility of another interpretation other than that they fixed upon, it would have occurred to them that Joshua is the last person to incite racial hatred.
Instead, they fixed on an interpretation and they refused to
consider any other possibility even after he had advanced his position in interview.
What we have is a young, kind, decent, liberal, broad-minded man who works hard and who has been put through hell.
case concluded, Humberside Police defended its decision to charge North, stating it takes hate crime allegations seriously.
A police unit to censor online insult and hate crime has been launched by London's mayor, Sadiq Khan.
The Online Hate Crime Hub is made up of five Met police officers who will try to identify, prevent and investigate online abuse. Sadiq Khan said
officers would work with community 'experts' to develop the police's understanding of online hate .
The unit will cost £1.7m over two years. It is being funded by the Met and the Mayor's Office for Policing And Crime (MOPAC), with £452,000
also being contributed by the Home Office Police Innovation Fund.I
Any online insult and hate crimes on the likes of Twitter and Facebook will be looked into by the unit.
City Hall said discussions were also under way with social media
companies to develop appropriate online sanctions for perpetrators of online hate .
Offsite Comment: All hail Sadiq Khan's new Ministry of Truth
Social media users who encourage flame wars or retweet the doxing (revealing identifying information with malicious intent) of others are set to be punished more severely by British prosecutors.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)'s latest Guidelines on prosecuting cases involving communications sent via social media
target doxing, online mobs, fake social media profiles and other social media misbehaviour.
Also included in the latest version of the guidance is a specific encouragement to prosecutors to charge those who egg on others to break social media
speech laws. Those who encourage others to commit a communications offence may be charged with encouraging an offence under the Serious Crime Act 2007, warns the guidance.
In a Kafka-esque twist, the guidance also includes this chilling
line, discussing how prosecutors can prove the criminal offence of sending a grossly offensive message, under section 127 of the Communications Act 2003:
The offence is committed by sending the message. There is
no requirement that any person sees the message or be offended by it.
Another nasty touch is that the CPS will allow victims to decide whether crimes are deemed to be 'hate crimes' and therefore attract more severe penalties. The
CPS policy consultation defines race/religion hate crimes as follows:
Crimes involving hostility on the basis of race or religion
The reporting and prosecution of hate crime are shaped by
two definitions; one is subjective and is based on the perception of the victim and the other is objective and relies on supporting evidence.
Both the subjective and objective definitions refer to hostility, not hatred. There is
no statutory definition of hostility and the everyday or dictionary definition is applied, encompassing a broad spectrum of behaviour.
We have an agreed definition with the police for identifying and flagging cases involving
hostility on the basis of race or religion. The joint definition is:
Any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice based on a person's race or
religion or perceived race or religion.
The equivalent paragraph an disability hate crime adds explaining how the CPS has waved its hands and extended the scope:
This definition is
wider than the statutory definition, to ensure we capture all relevant cases:
The guidance also encourages prosecutors to treat social media crimes committed against persons serving the public more seriously than nasty words
directed against their fellow members of the public. Similarly, coordinated attacks by different people should also attract greater prosecutorial attention.
Prosecution in all cases is said to be less likely if swift and effective action
has been taken by the suspect and/or others, for example service providers, to remove the communication .
Maria Miller, the Conservative former culture secretary and equalities minister has claimed that Britain needs better internet laws to stop online abuse that may be creating a nightmare for society in future.
Now the chair of the Commons women and
equalities committee, she said the government needed to wake up to some of the problems the internet was creating, from vile abuse on social media to easy sharing of violent explicit images among young people.
In 2014, ministers quadrupled the
maximum six-month prison term for internet insults to two years. The time limit for prosecutions has also been extended to three years.
Miller now says that the laws around insult and harm on the internet could be updated further and internet
companies could do more to act against threatening and abusive material online. She claimed:
We need better laws and we need better enforcement. Government needs to stop allowing internet providers from hiding behind
arguments about the protection of free speech.
The problem is rooted in the fact that many internet companies won't acknowledge that they can challenge, and should stop, criminal behaviour, saying they are just like the postal
service and can't help that people use their services for criminal activity, that it's not their problem. It is their problem and we need to sit up, take notice and realise that we are creating a nightmare future.
unleashing their inner venom in a way I just do not think is healthy for society. We have got to have an honest debate about this. Too many people in government are saying it is all about freedom of speech and it is not.
Last year, 1,209 people were found guilty of offences of internet insult under Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003.
It is a crime under the Communications Act to send by means of a public electronic communications network a message or
other material that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character .
Statistics released by the Ministry of 'Justice' (MoJ) show that 1,501 defendants were prosecuted under the law last year - including 70 juveniles -
while another 685 were cautioned. Of those convicted, 155 were jailed - compared to just seven a decade before. The average custodial sentence was 2.2 months.
The MoJ figures also revealed a rise in the number of convictions under the Malicious
Communications Act, which states that it is an offence to send a threatening, offensive or indecent letter, electronic communication or article with the intent to cause distress or anxiety.
So in a week where the police ARE threatening to jail innocent kids for sexting, they are asking parents not to teach their kids that the police will take them away if they are naughty.
Many an exasperated parent has told their misbehaving child to be
good or the police will put them in prison. But now one police force has issued a poster urging adults not to use this common threat. The poster from Durham Constabulary reads:
Parents. Please don't tell your children
that we will take them off to jail if they are bad. We want them to run to us if they are scared, not be scared of us. Thank You.
However the kids would be better advised to keep clear of the police lest they get locked up for
sexting, bad taste jokes, or even just insulting posts on Twitter or Facebook.
The number of prosecutions of internet trolls has soared eightfold in the last 10 years, according to new figures. More than 1,200 people were found guilty of offences under Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 last year compared with
143 in 2004.
The law states it is illegal to send by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other material that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character .
released by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) show that 1,501 defendants were prosecuted under the law last year - including 70 juveniles - while another 685 were cautioned.
Of those convicted, 155 were jailed - compared with just seven a decade
before- and the average custodial sentence was 2.2 months.
A young man has been arrested after allegedly tweeting a bad taste joke about the Glasgow bin lorry crash.
The man reportedly handed himself in to police after a number of whinges were made about the joke. He is alleged to have written:
So a bin lorry has crashed into 100 people in Glasgow eh, probably the most trash its ever picked up in one day that.
Northumbria Police made the ludicrous claim that the joke was 'a malicious
communication', and the persecution has not stopped at the arrest. The police investigation is continuing and the victim has been bailed pending further inquiries.
Internet insults could lead to two years in jail under new laws, 'Justice' Secretary Chris Grayling has said. He proposes that magistrates should be able to pass serious cases on to crown courts under the new measures.
He told the Mail on Sunday
quadrupling the current maximum six-month term showed his determination to take a stand against a baying cyber-mob
These internet trolls are cowards who are poisoning our national life. No-one would permit such
venom in person, so there should be no place for it on social media. That is why we are determined to quadruple the current six-month sentence.
As the terrible case of Chloe Madeley showed last week, people are being abused online
in the most crude and degrading fashion.
This is a law to combat cruelty - and marks our determination to take a stand against a baying cyber-mob. We must send out a clear message: if you troll you risk being behind bars for two
Those who subject others to sexually offensive, verbally abusive or threatening material online are currently prosecuted in magistrates' courts under the Malicious Communications Act, with a maximum prison sentence of six
months. More serious cases could go to crown court under the proposals, where the maximum sentence would be extended.
The law change is to be made as an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill going through Parliament.
director of Big Brother Watch, responded to the proposed new penalties:
The Justice Secretary should be focusing his efforts on incidents where real harm may be caused, not casting the net wider for anything that could be deemed offensive.
The Crown Prosecution Service and the police
have completely failed to properly use the existing harassment law, which itself would address the actions of anyone who poses a serious threat.
The victims of serious abuse online, or indeed offline, do not need headline grabbing
policies. They need definitive action to ensure that the police know what the law is when a compliant is made. It is that action which will keep them safe, not attempts to legally blur the line between illegal behaviour and being generally offensive.
Offsite Comment: Trolling 'is' a free-speech issue, and always has been
The UK justice secretary's announcement on Sunday that the jail sentence for abusive online trolling is set to be quadrupled, from a maximum of six months to two years, should send a chill down the spine of all freedom-loving individuals. The fact that a
panic over the phlegm-spitting, misspelled missives of a few keyboard warriors has laid the path for heavy-handed state intervention into our communications sets a dangerous precedent for the future of free expression online.
Jake Newsome was jailed last week for posting insulting comments online. His is the latest in a string of cases that have led to prison terms, raising concern that free speech is under threat from over-zealous prosecutors
On 30 April, two days after teacher Ann Maguire was stabbed to death by a pupil in Leeds , Jake Newsome, a 21-year-old man who had himself attended a secondary school on the other side of the city, posted on his Facebook page: Personally im glad that
teacher got stabbed up, feel sorry for the kid@ he shoulda pissed on her too .
Thats not very nice reads the first of 37 comments on his post. Others soon chipped in, addressing him by his nickname: Greeny come on!
You're better than that wrote one. Greeny seriously that's harsh wrote another. Greeny, not sure you should be saying this stuff on facebook man -- people get in trouble for this kind of stuff .
A few days later,
after his post had been shared more than 2,000 times, West Yorkshire police arrested and charged Newsome under the 2003 Communications Act with having sent by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is
grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing nature . Last week Newsome was jailed for six weeks, after pleading guilty, with the judge quoting his post back to him and saying: I can think of little that could be more upsetting or
The former director Director of Public Prosecutions for the Crown Prosecution Service, has been active in drawing up guidelines for sensitive areas of criminal law. [But these still allowed the persecutions to continue]
A spate of supposedly 'offensive' Twitter remarks on the Glasgow helicopter tragedy has sparked a public 'outcry' as it emerged a teenager was arrested for posting sectarian and racist comments about the disaster.
Police Scotland confirmed that
a 16-year-old had been detained for posting 'sickening' jibes in the wake of the Clutha pub catastrophe. The teenager was arrested on Sunday and held in custody in connection with remarks made on a social networking site following Friday's tragedy,
Update: Katie Hopkins under fire for throwaway joke
Katie hopkins has built a career on brash utterances and saying what everyone else is thinking . But now, more than 44,000 easily offended people have signed a petition calling for former Apprentice contestant to be banned from any future TV
The former reality TV star turned professional contrarian and HuffPost blogger issued an apology after cracking a joke on Twitter about life expectancy in Scotland following the fatal helicopter crash on the banks of the Clyde in
Glasgow. She had joked on Twitter:
Life expectancy in Scotland is 59.5. Goodness me. That lot will do anything to avoid working until retirement.
She later apologised:
My tweet on Scotland was directly related to this article: https://t.co/yijMFVbJp7
. I aologise to those I offended. It was poor timing.
A spate of supposedly 'offensive' Twitter remarks on the Glasgow helicopter tragedy has sparked a public 'outcry' as it emerged a teenager was arrested for posting sectarian and racist comments about the disaster.
Police Scotland confirmed that
a 16-year-old had been detained for posting 'sickening' jibes in the wake of the Clutha pub catastrophe. The teenager was arrested on Sunday and held in custody in connection with remarks made on a social networking site following Friday's tragedy,
More than 1,700 cases involving supposedly abusive messages sent online or via text message reached Britain's courts in 2012, the BBC has learned following a Freedom of Information request.
This is a 10% increase on the figures for 2011, according
to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
Nearly 600 charges were brought between January and May 2013..
The revelations come as police say they are investigating abusive tweets sent to MP Stella Creasy. This has resulted in pressure 'to do
something' about abusive messages sent via Twitter.
Del Harvey, Twitter's senior director of trust and safety, blogged that the micro-messaging platform would extend the report tweet function, already available on its iPhone app, to Android
phones and desktops.
Andy Trotter, chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers' communications advisory group told BBC Radio 4's The World At One:
They need to take responsibility as do the other
platforms to deal with this at source and make sure these things do not carry on. They need to make it easier for victims to report these matters and, from a police perspective, they need to know that they can report these things to us.
A Change.org petition calling for Twitter to add a report abuse button to its service has attracted more than 71,000 supporters.
The question for Twitter is how, having made it easier for people to report abusive tweets, it will cope
with the expected flood of reports.
Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions, said too many investigations into comments on networks such as Twitter would have a chilling effect on free speech:
I think that if there are too many
investigations and too many cases coming to court then that can have a chilling effect on free speech.
This is about trying to get the balance right, making sure time and resources are spent on cases that really do need to go to
court, and not spent on cases which people might think really would be better dealt with by a swift apology and removal of the offending tweet.
There is a lot of stuff out there that is highly offensive
that is put out on a spontaneous basis that is quite often taken down pretty quickly and the view is that those sort of remarks don't necessarily need to be prosecuted.
This is not a get-out-of-jail card but it is highly relevant.
Stuff does go up on a Friday and Saturday night and come down the next morning. If that is the case a lot of people will say: 'That shouldn't have happened, the person has accepted it, but really you don't need a criminal prosecution.' It is a relevant
Starmer stressed that people who wrote libellous tweets, or messages that broke court orders or were threatening, would still face prosecution.
29 police forces have revealed statistics about crimes involving Facebook and Twitter in a Freedom of Information request.
In 2008, a total of 556 complaints were made to police about social media postings on these 2 site. This had increased to
4,908 reports last year.
The figures also show 653 people were charged for social networking crime in 2011.
Greater Manchester Police charged the highest number of people, at 115.
Lancashire Police received reports of six threats of
murder and there were numerous reports of sexual offences and fraud. But presumably the large part were claims of insult, offence or political incorrectness.
Nick Pickles, director of civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, said:
These figures show just how badly some police forces had lost all proportion when dealing with social media.
So many arrests was clearly undermining freedom of speech and while the new guidance
should reduce the problem, hundreds of people now have criminal records for the rest of their lives when it is far from clear they should do.
The law around speech crimes is still in need of a total overhaul as the legislation
that led to some of the more absurd prosecutions remains in place.
Chief Constable Andy Trotter, the Association of Chief Police Officers' lead on communications, said forces must prioritise crimes which cause genuine harm, rather
than attempting to curb freedom of expression.
Director of public prosecutions Keir Starmer QC announced the new guidelines on how people who post offensive messages on Facebook and Twitter should be dealt with. Hopefully reducing the number of
people prosecuted for trivia.
Robert Sharp, campaign manager for English PEN, which lobbies on free speech and art internationally, said the prosecutions for hate online had been:
All young men between the ages
of 18 and 22, they are all from disadvantaged backgrounds, and the things that they have been prosecuted for have been immature and inarticulate. There's almost a criminalisation of adolescence, and of poor literacy, that's one issue that seems to have
The communications laws being used are for grossly offensive messages. Offence as the trigger for prosecution is still a big problem. The case that is the most important is that of Azhar Ahmed, he is the only case of an
ethnic minority. He posted something silly and illiterate about how soldiers were going to hell. He was prosecuted because far-right activists made a co-ordinated campaign to have him arrested.
So by using offence as the trigger
for prosecution, you are putting the power of censorship into the hands of people who may chose to be offended for political gain. That's a big deal for censorship.
The Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, has published interim guidelines setting out the approach prosecutors should take in cases involving communications sent via social media.
The guidelines are designed to give clear advice
to prosecutors and ensure a consistency of approach across the CPS to these types of cases.
These interim guidelines are intended to strike the right balance between freedom of expression and the need to uphold the
They make a clear distinction between communications which amount to credible threats of violence, a targeted campaign of harassment against an individual or which breach court orders on the one hand, and other communications sent by
social media, e.g. those that are grossly offensive, on the other.
The first group will be prosecuted robustly whereas the second group will only be prosecuted if they cross a high threshold; a prosecution is unlikely to be in the public interest
if the communication is swiftly removed, blocked, not intended for a wide audience or not obviously beyond what could conceivably be tolerable or acceptable in a diverse society which upholds and respects freedom of expression.
guidelines thus protect the individual from threats or targeted harassment while protecting the expression of unpopular or unfashionable opinion about serious or trivial matters, or banter or humour, even if distasteful to some and painful to those
subjected to it.
We want the interim guidelines to be as fully informed as possible, which is why we held a series of roundtable discussions and meetings with Twitter, Facebook, Liberty and other stakeholders, police and regulators, victim groups,
academics, journalists and bloggers, lawyers and sports organisations ahead of drafting them. I would now encourage everyone with an interest in this matter to give us their views by responding to the public consultation.
As part of their initial assessment, prosecutors are now required to distinguish between:
Communications which may constitute credible threats of violence
Communications which may constitute harassment or stalking
Communications which may amount to a breach of a court order
Communications which do not fall into any of the above categories and fall to be considered separately i.e. those which may be considered grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or false.
Those offences falling within the first three categories should, in general, be prosecuted robustly under the relevant legislation, for example the Protection from Harassment Act (1997), where the test set out in the Code for
Crown Prosecutors is satisfied.
Cases which fall within the final category will be subject to a high threshold and in many cases a prosecution is unlikely to be in the public interest.
The high threshold
Section 1 of the Malicious Communications Act 1988 and section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 engage Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights, therefore prosecutors are reminded that they must be interpreted
consistently with the free speech principles in Article 10.
Prosecutors are also reminded that what is prohibited under section 1 of the Malicious Communications Act 1988 and section 127 of the Communications Act 2003
is the sending of a communication that is grossly offensive. They should only proceed with cases involving such an offence where they are satisfied that the communication in question is more than:
Offensive, shocking or disturbing; or
Satirical, iconoclastic or rude comment; or
The expression of unpopular or unfashionable
opinion about serious or trivial matters, or banter or humour, even if distasteful to some or painful to those subjected to it.
The public interest
In line with the free speech principles in Article 10, no prosecution should be brought unless it can be shown on its own facts and merits to be both necessary and proportionate.
A prosecution is unlikely to be both necessary and proportionate where:
a) The suspect has swiftly taken action to remove the communication or expressed genuine remorse;
b) Swift and effective action has been taken by others, for example service
providers, to remove the communication in question or otherwise block access to it;
c) The communication was not intended for a wide audience, nor was that the obvious consequence of sending the
communication; particularly where the intended audience did not include the victim or target of the communication in question; or
d) The content of the communication did not obviously go beyond what could
conceivably be tolerable or acceptable in an open and diverse society which upholds and respects freedom of expression.
The age and maturity of suspect should be given significant weight, particularly if they are under the age of 18. Children may not appreciate the potential harm and seriousness of their communications and as such prosecutions of
children are rarely likely to be in the public interest.
New guidelines could see fewer people being charged in England and Wales for offensive messages on social networks.
The Director of Public Persecutions said people should only face a trial if their comments on Twitter, Facebook or elsewhere go
beyond being offensive. He claimed the guidance combats threats and internet trolls without having a chilling effect on free speech.
The guidance comes after a string of cases of prosecutions for jokes, and trivial insults, including the
prosecution of a man who tweeted a joke threatening to blow up an airport.
Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer said the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) had now dealt with more than 50 cases relating to potentially criminal comments posted
He said the interim guidelines, which come into force immediately, clarified which kinds of cases should be prosecuted and which would only go ahead after a rigorous assessment whether it was in the public interest to prosecute.
guidance says that if someone posts a message online that clearly amounts to a credible threat of violence, specifically targets an individual or individuals, or breaches a court order designed to protect someone, then the person behind the message
should face prosecution.
People who receive malicious messages and pass them on, such as by retweeting, could also fall foul of the law.
However, online posts that are merely grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or false would face a
much tougher test before the individual could be charged under laws designed to prevent malicious communications. Starmer said that many suspects in this last category would be unlikely to be prosecuted because it would not be in the public interest to
take them to court. This could include posts made by drunk people who, on sobering up, take swift action to delete the communication. Starmer said:
These interim guidelines are intended to strike the right balance
between freedom of expression and the need to uphold the criminal law.
The interim guidelines thus protect the individual from threats or targeted harassment while protecting the expression of unpopular or unfashionable opinion
about serious or trivial matters, or banter or humour, even if distasteful to some and painful to those subjected to it.
Although the interim guidance is now in force, its final form is subject to a consultation that runs until 13
A man has fallen victim to Kent Police who detained him for posting an image of a burning poppy on Facebook. He was detained on Sunday night on suspicion of making malicious telecommunications.
The force tried to justify their attack on free
speech in a statement:
A man (was) interviewed by police this morning following reports that a picture of a burning poppy had been posted on a social media website.
Officers were contacted at
around 4pm yesterday and alerted to the picture, which was reportedly accompanied by an offensive comment.
The offensive comment was the trivial comment:
How about that you squadey cunts
The man was later released pending further inquiries.
His detention was met with disbelief on Twitter, where people mounted a fierce discussion over civil liberties. David Allen Green, a journalist and lawyer for the New Statesman,
tweeting as Jack of Kent, wrote:
What was the point of winning either World War if, in 2012, someone can be casually arrested by Kent Police for burning a poppy?
Australian musician and comedian Tim
Minchin also expressed his incredulity, tweeting:
You've a right to burn a (fake!) poppy. Whether I agree with the action is utterly irrelevant. Kent Police are out of line.
Police have gotten involved in 4,000 petty squabbles on Facebook and Twitter. Statistics from 22 out of the 43 police forces in England and Wales show arrests for insulting messages are averaging three a day.
The police say they are wasting
valuable time and resources tackling internet users directing abuse at each other. In most cases, police simply tell victims to delete their tormentors from their networks, but the Crown Prosecution Service says a few dozen incidents have
led to court, with the figure growing rapidly in recent months.
An policeman from North Wales said:
You will always have one or two serious incidents of harassment and bullying on Facebook and the like but for
the most part it's petty stuff. It takes up a lot of time and the normal result is advice from us to all parties to grow up.
Simon Reed, vice-chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said:
We have concerns that we don't have the resources to police everything that's said on the internet. We can't have people getting upset in a one-off situation and involving the police. I do think this could be the thin end of the
wedge. If we show too much willingness and get involved in every squabble, we're setting ourselves up to keep doing this because it will be expected.
Statistics from 22 out of the 43 police forces in England and Wales show there were
at least 4,098 arrests under the relevant laws between the start of 2009 and the middle of 2012, averaging three a day. More than 2,000 people were either charged or given an out-of-court fine or caution.
A teenager who posted bad taste jokes about April Jones on his Facebook page has been jailed for 12 weeks.
Matthew Woods made comments about April and Madeleine McCann. Woods was arrested for his own safety after about 50 people descended on his
He pleaded guilty at Chorley magistrates court to sending by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is 'grossly offensive'.
The chairman of the bench, Bill Hudson, said Woods's comments were
so abhorrent he deserved the longest sentence the court could hand down. Hudson added: The reason for the sentence is the seriousness of the offence, the public outrage that has been caused and we felt there was no other sentence this court
could have passed which conveys to you the abhorrence that many in society feel this crime should receive.
The court was told Woods's Facebook page was available to a large number of people but there's no mention of how many people actually
Martina Jay, persecuting, said: He saw a joke on Sickipedia [an online database devoted to sick jokes] and changed it slightly.
Among Woods's comments were: Who in their right mind would abduct a ginger kid? In another
he said: I woke up this morning in the back of a transit van with two beautiful little girls, I found April in a hopeless place. He also wrote: Could have just started the greatest Facebook argument EVER. April fools, who wants Maddie? I love
April Jones. Also posted were comments of a more sexually explicit nature.
The CPS has confirmed that it reviewed the case and was content with the prosecution going ahead.
Offsite Comment: No one should be put in
prison for making a joke that other people don’t like.
A sales adviser who made a series of bad taste comments about five-year-old April Jones on Facebook has been given a suspended prison sentence.
Magistrates in Worcester chose not to jail Sam Busby despite being told that another Facebook user was sentenced to three months in prison for an
almost identical offence last month.
Busby admitted he was responsible for the comments and told officers he thought they could only be seen by his friends on Facebook.
Passing a six-week jail term suspended for 18 months,
magistrates said they had taken into account Busby's early guilty plea and remorse.
The chairman of the bench, Gill Porter, told the teenager:
You will realise by the time we have taken to discuss this matter
how seriously we view it. You have caused an immense amount of distress, not only to the recipient of this but potentially to April Jones's family and friends.
It happened at a very sensitive time for everybody concerned. You were
warned by your friends when they first saw your so-called joke, but you took no notice and you continued to make further even more offensive comments.
Busby was also ordered to pay an £ 80 victim
surcharge and keep to a 7pm-7am curfew for eight weeks.
A man who sent insulting messages on Facebook mocking the search for murdered five-year-old April Jones claimed his freedom of expression was breached, a court heard.
Liam Young posted supposedly shocking and offensive remarks online two
days after April Jones went missing last year.
He avoided a jail sentence but angered a sheriff after claiming social network messaging should be unrestricted in a democratic society . Young was given 120 hours unpaid work after admitting
disorderly conduct by sending indecent and offensive comments.
Sheriff Murphy highlighted Young's remarks to social workers, saying: It concerns me that someone believes they can say what they like on Facebook because they live in a democratic
The director of public prosecutions is exploring whether Facebook and Twitter should take more responsibility for censoring their networks for supposed abuse and harassment in an attempt to reduce the number of cases of people being persecuted for jokes
Keir Starmer is this week consulting with lawyers, journalists and police in a series of seminars on the subject. He seems keen to ask if social media companies can censor their sites because police are concerned about the volume of
offensive posts and tweets they may be called to investigate.
Those attending the panels said Starmer frequently returned to the subject, and he is preparing to draw up guidelines against an almost daily backdrop of arrests, prosecutions and
controversy. But there is no immediate consensus on what greater self-regulation for social media would look like.
The growing number of arrests often invoke the repressive section 127 of the 2003 Communications Act, which makes it an offence to
send or post grossly offensive material online.
Meanwhile, police are worried about the time spent examining cases and that it will only be practicable to investigate a handful of cases where emotions are running high. Andy Trotter, who
speaks for the Association of Chief Police Officers on media issues, said: Many offensive comments are made every day on social media and guidance will assist the police to focus on the most serious matters.
Police would like Facebook and
Twitter to act faster in deleting offensive comments to avoid arrests being necessary and to see if it is possible to explore ways of blocking particular individuals from using their networks.
A football fan who sent a Twitter insult about Premier League referee and cancer survivor Mark Halsey following last weekend's Liverpool v Manchester United game has been cautioned by police.
Liverpool supporter John Wareing tweeted: I hope
Mark Halsey gets cancer again and dies , after the official sent off Reds midfielder Jonjo Shevley and handed United a late penalty that gave Sir Alex Ferguson's side a 2-1 win.
Commenting on the incident, easily offended DS Tony Lunt of
Greater Manchester Police spouted:
Clearly the victim and his family were very distressed by the extremely offensive comments posted on Twitter. We take all reports of abuse on social networking sites very seriously as
these remarks can and do have a devastating impact on people's lives.
As a result of our investigation, we have cautioned a man who has admitted responsibility for some of the messages. This individual was very apologetic and
realises that in a moment of stupidity he posted deeply derogatory remarks about the victim and completely regrets his actions.
Our inquiries are ongoing to identify anyone else who posted these offensive messages.
Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecution has made a statement after deciding to pursue a case involving insulting tweets. Starmer said:
On 30 July 2012 Daniel Thomas, a semi-professional footballer, posted a homophobic
message on the social networking site, Twitter. This related to the Olympic divers Tom Daley and Peter Waterfield. This became available to his followers. Someone else distributed it more widely and it made its way into some media outlets. Mr Thomas was
arrested and interviewed. The matter was then referred to CPS Wales to consider whether Mr Thomas should be charged with a criminal offence.
The Communications Act 2003 makes it an offence to send a communication using a public
electronic communications network if that communication is grossly offensive. It is now established that posting comments via Twitter constitutes sending a message by means of a public electronic communications network. It is also clear that the offence
is committed once the message is sent, irrespective of whether it is received by any intended recipient or anyone else. The question in this case is therefore whether the message posted by Mr Thomas is so grossly offensive as to be criminal and, if so,
whether a prosecution is required in the public interest.
There is no doubt that the message posted by Mr Thomas was offensive and would be regarded as such by reasonable members of society. But the question for the CPS is not
whether it was offensive, but whether it was so grossly offensive that criminal charges should be brought. The distinction is an important one and not easily made. Context and circumstances are highly relevant and as the European Court of Human Rights
observed in the case of Handyside v UK (1976), the right to freedom of expression includes the right to say things or express opinions ...that offend, shock or disturb the state or any sector of the population.
The context and
circumstances in this case include the following facts and matters:
(a) However misguided, Mr Thomas intended the message to be humorous.
(b) However naive, Mr Thomas did not intend the message to go beyond his followers, who were mainly friends and family.
(c) Mr Thomas took reasonably swift action to remove the message.
(d) Mr Thomas has expressed remorse and was, for a period, suspended by his football club.
(e) Neither Mr
Daley nor Mr Waterfield were the intended recipients of the message and neither knew of its existence until it was brought to their attention following reports in the media.
This was, in essence, a one-off offensive Twitter message, intended for family and friends, which made its way into the public domain. It was not intended to reach Mr Daley or Mr Waterfield, it was not part of a campaign, it was not
intended to incite others and Mr Thomas removed it reasonably swiftly and has expressed remorse. Against that background, the Chief Crown Prosecutor for Wales, Jim Brisbane, has concluded that on a full analysis of the context and circumstances in which
this single message was sent, it was not so grossly offensive that criminal charges need to be brought.
Before reaching a final decision in this case, Mr Daley and Mr Waterfield were consulted by the CPS and both indicated that
they did not think this case needed a prosecution.
This case is one of a growing number involving the use of social media that the CPS has had to consider. There are likely to be many more. The recent increase in the use of social
media has been profound. It is estimated that on Twitter alone there are 340 million messages sent daily. And the context in which this interactive social media dialogue takes place is quite different to the context in which other communications take
place. Access to social media is ubiquitous and instantaneous. Banter, jokes and offensive comment are commonplace and often spontaneous. Communications intended for a few may reach millions.
Against that background, the CPS has
the task of balancing the fundamental right of free speech and the need to prosecute serious wrongdoing on a case by case basis. That often involves very difficult judgment calls and, in the largely unchartered territory of social media, the CPS is
proceeding on a case by case basis. In some cases it is clear that a criminal prosecution is the appropriate response to conduct which is complained about, for example where there is a sustained campaign of harassment of an individual, where court orders
are flouted or where grossly offensive or threatening remarks are made and maintained. But in many other cases a criminal prosecution will not be the appropriate response. If the fundamental right to free speech is to be respected, the threshold for
criminal prosecution has to be a high one and a prosecution has to be required in the public interest.
To ensure that CPS decision-making in these difficult cases is clear and consistent, I intend to issue guidelines on social
media cases for prosecutors. These will assist them in deciding whether criminal charges should be brought in the cases that arise for their consideration. In the first instance, the CPS will draft interim guidelines. There will then be a wide public
consultation before final guidelines are published. As part of that process, I intend to hold a series of roundtable meetings with campaigners, media lawyers, academics, social media experts and law enforcement bodies to ensure that the guidelines are as
fully informed as possible.
But this is not just a matter for prosecutors. Social media is a new and emerging phenomenon raising difficult issues of principle, which have to be confronted not only by prosecutors but also by others
including the police, the courts and service providers. The fact that offensive remarks may not warrant a full criminal prosecution does not necessarily mean that no action should be taken. In my view, the time has come for an informed debate about the
boundaries of free speech in an age of social media.
Police and prosecutors in the UK are accused of being incredibly heavy-handed when dealing with insulting internet messages.
It follows several cases where young people have been arrested, fined or jailed after posting insulting comments on
their Twitter and Facebook accounts.
Bernie Hogan from the Oxford Internet Institute monitors what happens in other countries. He said that although the UK was leading the way in cracking down on this type of online abuse, by comparison we are incredibly heavy-handed
The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) said in a statement: People have a right to publish their views but when these views become indecent, threatening or offensive then the individuals they affect also have the right to report
them. The police will assist with any prosecution.
Index, which campaigns for freedom of expression, say the cases are silly and the police only pursues them because they are easy prosecutions .
Police admitted last night that they are being dragged into too many Twitter disputes as a row raged over the decision to arrest a youth who abused Olympic diving star Tom Daley.
The police over reacted and swooped on the home of Reece Messer, 17,
at 2.45am yesterday as if he was some sort of highly dangerous master criminal.
Last night, as Dorset police handed the troubled teenager a formal harassment warning, police leaders claimed forces are being dragged into too many petty social media
Officers were asked to look at content 14,000 times on Facebook alone last year and Simon Reed, vice-chairman of the Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, said forces do not have the resources to monitor the internet.
There is legislation which concerns causing harassment, alarm or distress. But can we police the internet when someone upsets someone else?
I don't think we have the resources to do
that. We can't have a free-for-all online but we cannot involve the police every time something unpleasant is said.