Facebook rant case stopped

14/01/2013

Paul Whittaker CBE, Chief Crown Prosecutor of CPS Mersey-Cheshire, said: "A man contacted Merseyside Police on 28th December 2012 saying he had uploaded a video of himself on to Facebook in which he makes negative comments about the Hillsborough disaster and the Cumbria shootings. He was charged on the 29th December 2012 with an offence contrary to s127 of the Communication Act.

"As part of our duty to keep cases under constant review, I looked at the case in the light of the Director of Public Prosecutions' Interim guidelines on prosecuting cases involving communications sent via social media.

"Communications sent via social media are capable of amounting to a criminal offence in any one, or a number of following ways:-

  •  Communications which may constitute credible threats of violence to the person or damage to property.
  •  Communications which specifically target an individual or individuals and which may constitute harassment or stalking.
  •  Communications which may amount to a breach of a court order
  •  Communications which may be considered grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or false.

"The footage makes no threat to any individual and does not break any court order. It does not make a credible threat of violence when referring the Cumbria shootings; rather the defendant indicates that he is not going to respond in that way.

"In considering whether the footage may be considered grossly offensive, I have noted that the reference to Hillsborough amounts to a one line comment in a film of almost four minutes.

"While we can never forget the effect of the Hillsborough disaster on the people affected, the content of the whole message presents as an irrational and sweeping statement in which the defendant is protesting against perceived mistreatment he's suffered whilst living in Liverpool, which few would seem likely to place much credit in. This is exacerbated by the irrational manner of his delivery.

"The context of any communication is very important.  The defendant admits posting the video to Facebook, but it is important to remember that the video was then taken by others unknown and posted onto You Tube.

"It was the defendant who then informed the police having realised that matters were getting out of hand.  It is clear that the video was given to a wider audience than was ever intended.  The suspect took action to remove the content and it was he who informed the police at an early stage.

"Applying the interim guidance I have concluded that the comments do not reach the high threshold required to be grossly offensive and there is therefore insufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction. I have decided that the case should be stopped.

"What this case does show is the potential pitfalls of using social media sites. I would urge people to use caution as unlawful posting can lead to prosecution."

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