Former Cheshire councillor found guilty of harassing former MP

|News, Cyber / online crime

A former Cheshire councillor has been found guilty of harassing the then MP for Warrington North, Helen Jones.

The Crown Prosecution Service proved that Paul Bretherton, 48, of Springfield Avenue in Warrington, posted a number of false and offensive posts about Ms Jones when she was the serving MP, on a number of websites between October 2016 and December 2018.

Liverpool Magistrates’ Court heard that Bretherton had been a Labour Councillor in Warrington from 2007 to 2016 but was deselected following a review of the gender makeup of the party’s representatives.

He was replaced by another man who was an employee of Helen Jones and Bretherton blamed her for what had happened.

He began a relentless campaign of anonymous postings about the then MP and her family on the Warrington Guardian and Warrington Worldwide websites under the pseudonyms BILLYWIRES and B1ILLYWIRES.

The posts criticised Ms. Jones’ performance as an MP, asking for proof of her presence at events, alleging she wrongly employed members of her family to work for her, and that she ran a totalitarian regime and wouldn’t tolerate anyone who disagreed with her.

The postings were all public on general forums and never by way of direct messages to Ms Jones.

Ms Jones says she was made very anxious by the postings particularly as they came in the wake of the killing of her fellow Labour MP, Jo Cox.

Bretherton, a married man and father of two, accepted he was responsible for the postings, but claimed they were fair comment and that he was free to criticize the MP by virtue of his right to free speech. He also said he didn’t know they would cause her to feel harassed.

But at Liverpool Magistrates' Court today (7 February 2020) the District Judge John McGarva, rejected this defence and said the posts were malicious, relentless, oppressive and went way beyond Bretherton's right to free speech. Judge McGarva found him guilty of harassment without violence. He will be sentenced on 17 February 2020.

Crown Prosecutor Sarah Egan of CPS Mersey Cheshire, said: “Paul Bretherton nursed a grudge against Helen Jones after he was deselected as a Councillor. As a result, he embarked on a two year campaign of slurs and lies against her, which he posted anonymously on public websites - in effect, hiding in the shadows.

“Ms. Jones felt genuinely anxious as the claims came in the wake of the killing of Labour MP Jo Cox. She felt that the author of the posts had become obsessed with her and the anonymous nature of them worried her further.

“Ms. Jones has been in politics for a number of years and understands that it is necessary to be able to accept criticism. However, the District Judge agreed with the Crown Prosecution Service that these went way beyond reasonable criticism and freedom of speech.

"The judge also said Bretherton ought to have known, and would have known, the comments would cause Ms Jones to feel harassed. The comments did break the law and amounted to harassment.

“We all need to remember that what we post on social media and websites must stay within the law. Paul Bretherton has blighted his reputation and has only himself to blame.”

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