New CPS guidelines target online harassment

We were provisionally pleased to note this week that the Crown Prosecution Service has introduced its new “Guidelines on prosecuting cases involving communications sent via social media”. The guidelines, which in many respects are very similar to the current guidelines for prosecuting harassment cases, nevertheless offer advice that’s specific to the internet, and potentially more relevant to those who’ve suffered from online abuse.

For example, doxxing—providing personal information such as a person’s address, phone number, email address, place of business, and so on—can now be identified as a criminal act. In the context of the Hampstead SRA hoax, this could apply to those families, teachers, and clergy whose personal details were published online originally by Ella Draper and Sabine McNeill.

We were particularly interested in this section, which seems to describe a very familiar scenario:

Category 4: Communications which are Grossly Offensive, Indecent, Obscene or False

Some indecent or obscene communications may more appropriately be prosecuted under other legislation, which may contain more severe penalties, rather than as a communications offence. For instance, in R v GS [2012] EWCA Crim 398, the defendant was charged with publishing an obscene article contrary to section 2(1) of the Obscene Publications Act 1959, relating to an explicit internet relay chat or conversation with one other person, concerning fantasy incestuous, sadistic paedophile sex acts on young and very young children.

However, we can see pitfalls as well:

Section 1 of the Malicious Communications Act 1988 prohibits the sending of an electronic communication which is indecent, grossly offensive, or which is false, or which the sender believes to be false if, the purpose or one of the purposes of the sender is to cause distress or anxiety to the recipient. [emphasis ours]

And later on…

Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 makes it an offence to send or cause to be sent through a “public electronic communications network” a message or other matter that is “grossly offensive” or of an “indecent or obscene character”. The same section also provides that it is an offence to send or cause to be sent a false message “for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another”. The defendant must either intend the message to be grossly offensive, indecent or obscene or at least be aware that it was so. This can be inferred from the terms of the message or from the defendant’s knowledge of the likely recipient (DPP v Collins [2006] UKHL 40). The offence is committed by sending the message. There is no requirement that any person sees the message or be offended by it.

While this approach might work for run-of-the-mill trolling, in which a person hurls electronic abuse at a perceived opponent, it runs up against the same issue that the prosecution encountered during Sabine McNeill and Neelu Berry’s trial last summer: to obtain a conviction of witness intimidation, the prosecutor needed to prove that the defendants intended to cause intimidation.

In his ruling, Judge Worsley stated that this criterion was not met: in fact, while the witnesses most certainly experienced intimidation, it was as a by-product of what the defendants considered a ‘campaign’. The fact that the defendants were “delusional, obsessive, irrational, and odd” meant that their actions were viewed not as a deliberate attempt to intimidate, but as an attempt to campaign against what they believed was a baby-murdering, child-raping, cannibalistic cult.

However, there may be glimmers of hope here, as well: the new guidelines seem to reflect a public appetite for better policing of the internet. And situations such as Hoaxtead, in which a campaign was mounted to specifically harass, stalk, and defame a group of people, seem to be more common; thus, they beg a sensible and proportionate legal response:

Those who encourage others to commit a communications offence may be charged with encouraging an offence under the Serious Crime Act 2007: for instance, encouragement to tweet or re-tweet (“RT”) a grossly offensive message; or the creation of a derogatory hashtag; or making available personal information (doxing / doxxing), so that individuals can more easily be targeted by others. Such encouragement may sometimes lead to a campaign of harassment or “virtual mobbing” or “dog-piling”, whereby a number of individuals use social media or messaging to disparage another person, usually because they are opposed to that person’s opinions.

There does seem to be more room in the new guidelines to proceed with charges based on the principles of harm to the victims—such as the fear and victimisation experienced by those falsely accused of belonging to a murdering, paedophilic, cannibalistic cult.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders said: “The internet’s not an anonymous place where people can post without any consequences. People should think about their own conduct.

“If you are grossly abusive to people, if you are bullying or harassing people online, then we will prosecute in the same way as if you did it offline.”

Given the recent spate of arrests over the past few weeks, we hope this firmer approach will at least give members of the Hoaxtead mob cause for pause.

scales of justice

39 thoughts on “New CPS guidelines target online harassment

  1. If US citizens think they are immune from legal redress under their so-called “freedom of speech” they need to think again. This article about the fake Rolling Stone rape claim shows more than anywhere else, American lawyers are very effective at launching law-suits and it’s very easy to find a no-win, no-fee advocate as damages can be in the $millions rather than the rather paltry sums by comparison, awarded in UK courts.
    Anyone with a house in the US who has harassed a Hampstead dad or resident should take note as should their parents if they encouraged a family member in their harassment.
    http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/dont-assign-motives-to-someone-you-dont-know/article/2604286

    I think this may have been posted before but it looks into the mindset of people who think they are being targeted by cults:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/11/health/gang-stalking-targeted-individuals.html?_r=1

    Meanwhile I had a pal moaning in an email this morning about the Pound / Euro exchange rate as they plan a Roman holiday but I’m going to recommend he opt for Exitence Money as recommended by APD.
    Suggestion : if you want to donate to CCN or APD’s weekly broadcast titled ” I Smoke 40 Cigarettes in 2 Hours” send her Exitence Money. It can be used at any Irish bank.

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    • The fantasy of gang stalking has been around for a very long time:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Tilly_Matthews#The_.22Air_Loom.22

      I came across someone on an internet message board some years ago who was convinced that the CIA were X-raying him through the walls of his house. From the various things he said he thought was happening to him, it was clear that he was suffering from mental health problems. Eventually, more and more people on the message board began to recognise this and advise him to seek psychiatric help; unfortunately he interpreted this as people being agents and became more and more paranoid. I do wonder what happened to him and his family.

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      • It’s one of the hazards of our now well connected world. These, unfortunately unwell, people are able to compare notes, bolster each other’s delusions and weave them into fantastical interconnected things. Equally unfortunate is the fact that criminals will take ready advantage of sick people like this. Even more unfortunate is that apparently so will some dishonest and corrupt politicos. – Creating something of a ‘feedback loop’ in the process.

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      • Yes, I think the internet has had the unfortunate effect of creating an ‘echo chamber’ for those people who suffer from mental illnesses like paranoia, delusional disorders, etc. They can easily meet others who believe the same things are happening to them, and reinforce one another’s beliefs, which helps neither. It creates the illusion that terrible things really are happening…very sad indeed.

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  2. It strikes me that these ‘guidelines’ are just pussy-footing around, and more about PR than anything else.

    For instance, the Obscene Publications Act covers only certain parts of the UK. – And how common are prosecutions under it? Can ‘doxxing’ really now be identified as a criminal act? I’m not sure how or, again, if there is protection in place for all UK Citizens. – In any case, both the CPS and the Crown Office (Scottish Equivalent) have a long and tiresome history of failure to apply the laws that already stand. This is coupled to taking routes to prosecution (such as in the example above) which seem to be deliberately designed to fail.

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    • The CPS will be cheap and therefore get poor quality solicitors and barristers. They’ll also have a ridiculous case load so preparation will be at a minimum.

      It’s little wonder why cases presented to courts by incompetent idiots in the CPS fail, they are merely a bunch of people milking the system. Since they are getting paid anyway why should they care if they win or lose? They just move on to the next poorly prepared case.

      You pay peanuts and you get monkeys.

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      • I wouldn’t disagree with much that you say here Jack. There is though a body of opinion that says the agenda is much more sinister.

        By cultivating crises such as those associated with the Hollie Greig Hoax and Hampstead, public opinion may be swayed in favour of ever-more draconian legislation and restriction on freedom of speech. – Even though such legislation is neither necessary or in the public interest. – Secondary to that and not entirely dismissible is that such cases may be being deliberately misdirected as part of some sort of smokescreen that hides actual corruption and/or wrongdoing on the part of officialdom.

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        • I’m not sure how far I would go down the ‘sinister plot’ road, but I do agree 100% that the way the system currently stands, the CPS can write up all the guidelines it likes, but unless we as a society are willing to actually pay for a prosecution system that actually works, our criminal justice system will keep spiralling into disaster.

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          • One of the MANY problems with public service organisations is that they’ve lost sight of the fact they’re there to provide a service to the public. By-and-large they are managed by people whose sole purpose in life if to provide vacuous statistics which vacuous politicians can manipulate to justify vacuous policies that keep their own noses firmly in the trough. – Nobody cares if the public interests/needs are met, so long as they can chuck some numbers around to justify their own positions and over-bloated salaries.

            That mentality runs from the highest to the lowest (big fleas have little fleas and all that!). Self-serving and ego-driven, these ‘types’ are very often power hungry and corrupted by it. I’ve often dealt with individuals that really do view the public virtually as serfs to their fiefdom! An honest politico is almost unheard of! and we have some very disturbed and even corrupt people in high places. I think we actually DO pay for a prosecution system, and other public services that actually work. We don’t get them though! Mainly because resource is too-often diverted to lining the pockets of corrupt political overlords. – Too many noses in the trough! Too many political agenda!

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        • It’s rather dispiriting to see a website devoted to debunking paranoid fantasies about a sinister conspiracy propounding paranoid fantasies about a sinister conspiracy Joe appears to be saying that evil government agents are behind Hoaxtead and the Hollie Greig hoax. Well that gets people like Neellu, Ella, Abe and Sabine off the hook – it was police officers, civil servants and ministers all along!
          Actually

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          • And it’s rather insulting that you should respond so! – Most certainly there IS ‘something’ very odd about the way the Hollie Greig hoax was dealt with by the Scottish authorities. – Had Robert Green offered ANY sort of relevant defence to the charges he faced he would have danced out of court. Likewise the recent ‘designed to fail’ dealing with McNeill and Berry was incompetent to the point of being suspiciously so…..

            I’m afraid however that the “evil government agents” you speak of are straw men stitched together by yourself. I see you’ve fashioned them along the style of “police officers, civil servants and ministers “, how quaint and predictable. The smoke rising from them will distract some of the people for some of the time I suppose.

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          • Dear me, I’m sorry you felt offended Joe, by what I said. It would presumably have been acceptable behaviour to accuse you of being grubby, corrupt, an idiot, crook or clown, bent or incompetent, as you accuse a substantial section of the public. I’m not clear what their objective is – you say it’s to restrict freedom of speech, but you’ve also complained that people like Sabine are free to express their opinions. It’s all rather confusing.

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          • Were this an appropriate time, place and context I’d be quite happy to produce evidence – facts – to back my wider views. That, however, would drag the discussion board off topic, which wouldn’t be appropriate. But if you’d like an exemplar of the sort of common-or-garden corruption I refer to look no further than Glasgow City Council. A place where can lead confidently from the position of gay Gangster’s Moll as you wallow happily in white powder. Or even indulge in a spot of public fellatio in a park where old ladies walk their dogs and children play – safe in your ability to pull strings and have the Police let you off the hook. – Two different ‘leaders’ involved incidentally

            Elsewhere it’s quite usual to have to grease palms to get things done, belong to the ‘right’ club or lodge to get on, even be born into the ‘right’ religion and not carry the ‘wrong’ type of surname; all this goes on in my experience despite copious the sloshing of whitewash – I’m often ashamed to have to wave the brush myslef and regret getting involved with the PR industry; this isn’t second-hand smoke!

            And, contrary to what you would like to project, I’m not accusing “a substantial section of the public”. I’m referring to individuals in their capacity as public servants. Public service very often fails to meet the needs of the public it is supposed to serve; that, it’s true, is often to a lack of personal integrity….. But again it’s rather a fragile strawman argument to conflate this as an attack on ‘members of the public’.

            In the same vein you say that I’ve “also complained that people like Sabine are free to express their opinions” Please, please! No-one light a match with all this chaff flying around! Sabine, and others, aren’t ‘expressing opinions’, they’re pursuing deliberate hoaxes which facts can (in contrast to the examples I gave for instance) DISprove. And they are causing real damage to the lives of others – who actually ARE innocent members of the public, and in that capacity, in the process of perusing those hoaxes…..

            Whatever way you turn it, the performance of the CPS in the Hampstead case has just not been good enough. All their (frankly bizarre) actions have done is embolden the hoaxers. The public have been failed. Something similar was true in the Hollie Greig case – as I’ve said a couple of times now, if Robert Green had presented any kind of relevant defence to the charges he would have dance out of the court. Again the public were failed here – for instance the innocent women he defamed never actually had their names explicitly cleared in a court of law; as should be their right. – Additionally, other matters were conveniently ‘buried’ and will only eventually come to light through other routes. – They will still though come to light.

            The common threads in these case trouble not only me. You can only fool some of the people for some of the time.

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        • Joe has been saying for some time that the activities of Belinda Teflon McKenzie and others provide a very useful smoke screen for some grubby goings on here and there. I don’t think that is so much a conspiracy theory as an observation. How much is intention and how much is ineptness is hard to say.

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          • Bearing in mind that I actually work in PR, and some of that work involved dealing with politicos, I personally have no doubts that corruption is rife in public service; I deal with these idiots and crooks on a daily basis! Many of us wonder at Donald Trump getting as far as he has in American politics. – But we have clowns of a similar type and magnitude aplenty in our own back yards!

            Yes, certainly, Belinda McKenzie is an example (and she is just one example) of an individual who can only have got as far as she has as freely as she has with official sanction. – Are those officials as bent as four-quid notes? Or so incompetent they’re not fit to check bus tickets? Answers on a postcard please…..

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  3. I wouldn’t write off this legislation just yet but I think it will only be used in pretty extreme cases which Hampstead most definitely is.

    As we have seen in 2 court cases now the hoaxers have been victorious but…..we should look at the big picture. Court cases are never a slam dunk and you cannot assume arrest & charging automatically means conviction.

    But this may be a case of the opposition winning battles but ultimately losing the war.

    The two cases have now resulted in restraining orders and one is in a criminal court. Breaching a criminal restraining order was always going to mean being taken back to court.

    If people are convicted of breaching the criminal court restraining orders and their contempt for the law is shown in how they have also blatantly breached the High Court judgement and injunction you could almost guarantee a jail sentence and it will depend on who the judge is whether that is the maximum available. That can automatically mean civil claims for damages will follow.

    We are looking at people spending the next 2/3 years in and out of court accompanied by all the stress that brings and at the end there is nothing to celebrate.

    I’ve seen it too many times- people being so gung ho in similar cases to Hoaxtead but once they are well & truly in the system and not just for over night or the weekend waiting for bail with a bunch of loonies urging them on and waiting outside to whisk them off to the pub, reality sets in and for what?

    Time and people move on and they become forgotten as their “allies” find a new sensation. The sudden silence of our American friend just shows he has obviously had time to reflect this wasn’t some wonderful Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure but now weeks of stress, reporting while on bail, probably getting on the nerves of whoever he has landed on, a feeling that life is suspended and the awful uncertainty of not knowing what the outcome will be. And a conviction in a UK court can negatively affect your life from hereon in your home country.

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    • Yes, I think you’re right that in a case like Hoaxtead, the new guidelines might actually prove at least somewhat useful. I do worry about the ability of the CPS to cope with anything too unusual, but as you say, we do seem to be winning this war.

      Overall I’m cautiously optimistic that the guidelines will help to clarify the fact that the internet has become an integral part of most people’s lives, and that crimes committed here can’t be ignored or swept away by saying, “Just ignore them” or “Why can’t you block them?”

      For example, all of the children who’ve been named in this case now have their names permanently attached to horrific and untrue allegations. For their sake if nothing else, I hope the CPS will be able to get its act together and build solid cases. If the guidelines help them do this, so much the better.

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      • We don’t actually make videos here at HR. We’re fortunate that our friends at McKenzie’s Devils do, and that they are happy for us to use them, but they are quite independent from us.
        And yes, I’d be interested to know what a hack video might be.

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        • Oh good, it’s not just me!

          The thought had crossed my mind too that MKD videos are nothing to do with HR, though Woody and Weedy aren’t being clear about who they mean by “they” (Angie’s “loyal fans”, apparently). That said, it’s really helpful of Woody to clarify what she means by “hack videos” by posting screenshots of a Facebook banner and a wall chart – that clears it all up, I reckon.

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      • She’s an A-Grade God Botherer. Sadly just like APD she failed to notice The Rapture came & went in September ( and Angie had advanced notice) and left both of them behind.

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    • That was no fly but a small UFO from the Planet Fucktardia sent to do instant repairs on the Hilary clone. You could tell it was the clone at the debate by the permanent fixed smile. This info has been relayed to me by the late Tory Johnson who didn’t die but was whisked away by the Intergalactic Federation as his work on Earth had been concluded ie: he failed convince Earthlings of the Final Notice of Dissolution of UK PLC ( Agent Ved continues his work).

      Nursey says it’s medication time again.

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  4. As I suspected.

    John Duane has the hots for Angie, ha ha ha!

    You’ll be ok John if you’ve got plenty of money, if not she won’t be interested.

    She’s a gold digger…

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  5. I’ve pledged £100 a month for Angie but I’m transferring the funds in another dimension so she’ll have to go there to collect it.

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  6. “Not everyone who speaks in the spirit is a prophet, but only one who conducts himself like the Lord. Do not listen to anyone who says in the spirit ‘Give me money’….’ Didache 11.8, 12.

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