Since the Hampstead SRA hoax went viral online in February 2015, the hoax promoters and supporters have for the most part been able to act with complete impunity.
Yes, there have been some arrests made, and some people have received police cautions about their harassment and defamation of the families, teachers, and clergy in the Hampstead community. And of course in July 2016, Sabine McNeill and Neelu Berry walked away from charges of conspiracy to commit witness intimidation, but were given lifetime restraining orders. These orders ostensibly prevented them from further harassing the four witnesses they’d been acquitted of intimidating, and from mentioning cannibalism, sexual abuse, or Satanism in relation to any pupil, former or current, at Christchurch Primary School.
At the time the restraining orders were imposed, we optimistically dared to hope that this legal step would ultimately kill the Hampstead SRA hoax. Our understanding of “restraining order” was that any breach would enable the police to make an almost immediate arrest, which would put a serious damper on the activities of two of the most vocal Hoaxtead mobsters. Indeed, there were several breeches, and several arrests, culminating in Sabine pleading guilty to breech of her restraining order in October.
However, Hoaxtead has continued to lurch on, and those who’ve been victimised by its promoters and supporters continue to feel targetted and apprehensive. Their names, and the names of their children, are still splashed across the internet for anyone to see—family, friends, employers, colleagues. Vicious and/or deluded people have posted reams of inflammatory, defamatory, illegal material; the death threats continue.
And we are left to wonder where these people can find protection under the law.
Survey says victims let down
It seems we’re not the only ones asking this: last month, a survey conducted by Plaid Cymru and Voice4Victims found that
(p)olice and court action, including the imposition of restraining orders, is failing to prevent domestic abusers and stalkers from carrying on their campaigns of harassment and abuse against their victims online.
The Guardian reported that 122 victims of stalking, harassment, domestic abuse, and coercive behaviour were surveyed to determine their experiences with police, courts, and other criminal justice agencies.
(I)n only 52% of cases – 63 out of 122 – there was a restraining order in place against their attacker. Two-thirds of those restraining orders did not explicitly ban attackers from contacting them online despite the dominance of online communication through social media, email and internet messaging.
Similarly, while the restraining orders issued last summer stated that Sabine and Neelu must not go near Christ Church or the school, they failed to address their contacting, harassing, or continuing to defame any of the parents or teachers who’ve borne much of the brunt of the hoax.
More than half of the victims surveyed who had a restraining order had been contacted at least once online by the person convicted of stalking or harassing them, with more than quarter of victims contacted three or more times. Two-thirds of the surveyed victims rated the response by the police as “poor” or “extremely poor”.
While the survey group is obviously not directly comparable to the victims of Hoaxtead—those surveyed were being harassed and stalked primarily by people who were known to them—we think parallels may be drawn. We’ve heard from residents of Hampstead who’ve found that despite repeated attempts to bring their harassers to justice, they’ve run up against brick wall after brick wall. The reliance on restraining orders, which are intended to protect the vulnerable from harassment, whether online or in person, seems almost laughable, as harassers simply ignore them.
Liz Saville-Roberts, then Plaid Cymru’s justice spokesperson, stated,
We found that the situation was much bleaker than we expected, and that there seems to be serious failings by criminal justice agencies. The police, Crown Prosecution Service and all other agencies that work with victims of crime must be liable in law if they fail to comply with the Victims’ Code and provide a sub-standard service.
So if restraining orders are viewed as a joke by those who choose to mount campaigns of harassment against innocent people, where can Hoaxtead’s victims find justice? At what point will the police and Crown Prosecution Service decide that it’s not okay to target and harass individuals and families, whether online or otherwise?
And let’s face it: only two of the entire multitude of Hoaxtead mobsters were even issued with restraining orders. Some remain on bail, while others have received only verbal warnings from the police, but few charges have been laid. One person, Rupert Quaintance, awaits trial at the end of August on charges of harassment.
But the real leaders of the hoax, Abe and Ella, remain at large, free to continue spreading their lies to those gullible enough to believe them. Their deluded followers continue to threaten and harass at will, secure in the knowledge that they’re very unlikely to face any legal consequences for their illegal actions.