One of the country’s leading criminal barristers, who suffered serious online abuse over the course of a year, has seen his stalker sentenced to five years in prison for harassment, fraud, and failing to comply with a serious crime prevention order.
In January, Jo Sidhu QC, president of the Society of Asian Lawyers, said in this article from the online news site Metro that he was forced to spend £11,000 on a private investigator who helped him identify and track his tormentor, one Jason Place of Gravesend, before the police were able to do anything to help him.
Place was sentenced in December 2015, following a 3-week trial at Inner London crown court.
According to the Evening Standard,
“The websites were malicious, threatening and deeply distressing to me and my family,” said Mr Sidhu. “Some contained death threats, which we took very seriously. It was a nightmare no decent person should have to suffer.”
One site featured sinister Wanted-style posters with a bounty of £1 million on Mr Sidhu’s head. Another showed his name written on a gravestone. They included links to an online petition calling for him to be disbarred.
All of this will have a very familiar ring to families, teachers, clergy, and businesses in Hampstead, who’ve spent the past year and a half being stalked and bombarded with online and in-person death threats, hate mail, and attempts to destroy their livelihoods and reputations.
Mr Sidhu was sharply critical of the major search engines, who he said “sat on their hands and did nothing” to help him have material removed. Noting that the police simply don’t have sufficient resources to battle the current onslaught of cyber-crime, he said, “The response of Google, Yahoo and Bing was utterly inadequate. Even when they knew the police were investigating the internet attacks as a serious crime, their default position was to do nothing until repeatedly pushed to take action to remove the offensive sites.”
Again, this echoes the experience of Hampstead residents, who’ve found that forcing social media platforms, blogging sites, and search engines to act has been a slow and tortuous process.
As Mr Sidhu mentions in the Metro article, not everyone can afford an £11,000 price tag—he’ll never see that money again, and even though his tormentor is now in prison, some of the offending sites remain online, accessible via a simple search.
In the case of Hoaxtead, while sites like YouTube and Facebook have slowly begun to remove harassing and threatening posts and videos, it’s likely that even once the hoax has faded to a bad memory, remnants will be left behind.
All of this speaks to the urgent and growing need for more robust and consistent approaches to police responses to online crime, but that’s only half the equation. Search engines, social media platforms, and blog hosting companies must be held to account as well: while they’re not publishers per se, once they’re notified that they’re hosting illegal or harassing material, they should be obligated to remove it in a timely and conscientious manner.
Until this two-pronged approach is adopted, none of us can consider ourselves safe from online stalking and harassment.