This morning at court was very similar to yesterday’s snooze-fest, except that it lacked the interesting gossip emanating from Belinda’s end of the corridor. She appears to have realised that our intrepid reporter is not a member of her fan club, and she maintained a steely silence for the hour and a half between the scheduled court time and 11:30 when the public was finally allowed into the courtroom.
Our reporter informs us that although the case was listed as “resumed” at 10:04 a.m., this was a gross exaggeration. Instead, there was much to-ing and fro-ing of barristers and solicitors, much swishing of black robes and bouncing of wigs’ pigtails, and a great many murmured conversations.
Eventually the public was allowed into the courtroom, and the jury was admitted at 11:54, at which point the five written counts against Rupert Quaintance were handed out to the jurors.
The counts, under the Protection from Harassment Act (1997), claim that:
- Rupert engaged in a course of conduct which caused each of five witnesses to fear that violence would be used against him or her;
- and that Rupert knew or ought to know that his conduct would cause the witnesses to fear that violence would be used against them;
- and that Rupert ought to know that his course of conduct would cause the witnesses to fear that violence would be used against them if a reasonable person in possession of the same information would think that this course of conduct would cause the other to fear this on that occasion.
Rupert has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Prosecution opening statement
Prosecutor Martyn Bowyer made the point that although the internet has brought us enormous freedom of information and expression, this freedom comes with certain responsibilities. When these responsibilities are abrogated, people may cross the line and break the law. The defendant in this case, Mr Bowyer said, used the freedom of the internet to cause people to fear that violence would be used against them.
Mr Bowyer reviewed the background to this case, including the false allegations against their father, other parents, teachers, social workers, and police officers which two children were forced to make; and the police investigation and fact-finding hearing which completely exonerated all of the accused people of any wrongdoing.
Despite this, material related to the case was published on the internet, arousing considerable interest amongst certain people. “Sadly,” said Mr Bowyer, “the debate did not subside”. He described the backlash against Mrs Pauffley’s judgment, which was said to have been a whitewash, and noted that in a free society, anyone who wishes to do so is free to state that a judgment is wrong. This case does not attack anyone’s freedom of expression, he said; rather, it focuses on drawing a line between the individual’s freedom of speech and a criminal course of conduct, consisting of harassment—either directly or by implication.
Mr Bowyer noted that Rupert describes himself as an activist, an investigative journalist, a vlogger, and a contributor to an online radio site called American Freedom Radio. He maintains a social media presence on Twitter and YouTube, and has a Facebook account with a public profile. In 2015 he became aware of the debate concerning the Hampstead SRA hoax, and became actively involved in the debate. He accepts that he posted a video in which he stated that he wanted to come to Hampstead to “kick down doors” and “take blood samples”, which he claimed would settle the debate once and for all.
Further to this, in 2016 he set up a GoFundMe page on which he accepted donations for the purpose of travelling from the United States to the UK. At the beginning of September last year (2016) he was in London. People reported seeing a selfie of him in which he was standing outside Christ Church Primary School, on the first day of the school term, with a caption, “This is what my defiant face looks like”. One of his Facebook friends commented on this, at which point the defendant gave the impression that he had a knife on his person.
“He will say that it was all a misunderstanding,” Mr Bowyer said, noting that Rupert claimed that he and his friend were engaging in an “in-joke”, which he accepts could have been misconstrued. “However, in-jokes are only understood by those who are in on them”. Against the backdrop of Rupert’s vocal and sometimes threatening support of the hoax, the suggestion that he might have been armed with a knife while standing outside the school named in the hoax created a great deal of consternation.
Mr Bowyer said it is up to the prosecution to prove that each witness was put in fear of violence; that they were put in fear of violence as a result of a course of conduct taken by Rupert; and that he knew, or ought to have known, that this would happen under the circumstances.
Each of the witnesses named in the five counts against Rupert are or were parents of children at Christ Church Primary School; they were swept up in the furore surrounding the hoax; and each was acutely aware of any information that might affect them or their children. These parents all checked online because they had very good reason to do so.
On or around February 2016, all the witnesses say that they saw a video. In it, Rupert Quaintance spoke about the children who were the alleged victims of the “cult”. In July, they became aware that Rupert had spoken in an interview on an internet radio station called American Freedom Radio about his desire to come to the UK. He stated that he didn’t want to “actually kill the parents, just beat them up pretty good”.
On 13 September 2016, Rupert was still in London. When he was arrested at a home in Erith, two computers and a hard drive were seized by the police.
At the time of his arrest, Rupert’s solicitor advised him not to answer any police questions. However, in early October he came to the police of his own volition and provided a lengthy interview, in which he explained how he came to be invited to the UK by Angela Power-Disney and others. Once in the UK, he said, he became subject to a torrent of abuse. He told police that he accepted that he had made some errors in judgement, some of which might have resulted from the cultural divide between the United States and the United Kingdom.
During this trial, Mr Bowyer said, the jury will hear about the materials which were found on Rupert’s hard drive. Police found a file marked “AB”, which contained “cult details”: it consisted of an Excel spreadsheet containing the names of teachers, children, parents, and police officers, along with their addresses, email addresses, and telephone numbers. The names of all five witnesses were included in this list.
In addition, police forensic investigators unearthed a Skype message which contained a link to a site related to the Hampstead case. Again, this site contained details of names and addresses of children and parents named in the case, as well as names and addresses of the families’ nannies and babysitters.
Should Rupert have known that his actions would cause the witnesses to fear that he would be violent toward them? Mr Bowyer said, “He did exactly what he said he was going to do”. While no actual violence was involved, Rupert’s actions created fear amongst the witnesses.
Witnesses for the prosecution
As we reported yesterday, a court order is quite rightly in place to protect all children involved in the background to this case from further violations of their privacy. Therefore, we will not be naming any of the witnesses who gave evidence today, and we will be aggregating some of their evidence to avoid any possibility of identifying them, and indirectly, their children.
Three witnesses were heard directly by the jury, and two additional witness statements were read out in court. Each of the three live witnesses stated that they were acutely aware of the allegations originally made against them and their children. One witness described shutting down their Facebook account, and then becoming aware of the threats against them: “It made me look to see what was there, to be aware of the threats coming to me and my family”.
All described screenshotting “thousands” of videos, blog posts, Facebook posts, Twitter tweets, and the like.
One noted that following conclusion of the fact-finding hearing, when material about the case went viral on the internet, their child was implicated: “It was horrifying. There were names, addresses, photographs of my child next to sexual allegations”.
Another said they began to check the internet regularly, sometimes many times per day; the hoax, they said, had affected their life profoundly, forcing them to move several times, to be acutely aware of their surroundings, and to worry constantly about the possibility that they would be attacked by supporters of the hoax, or that their children would be kidnapped.
The witnesses described becoming hypervigilant: knowing that they and their children had been named, they felt they had to keep a close eye on the internet, keeping track of the multiple threats against them.
Each of the witnesses stated that in February 2016 they had seen Rupert’s video in which he threatened to “kick down doors and take blood samples”. One witness described their sense of panic: “How do I keep my child safe if he approaches us?” A witness described printing out Rupert’s picture and putting it in the staff room at their child’s school, to ensure that if any staff saw him they could call the police immediately. Another witness agreed: “I felt fearful and angry. We’d already had a year’s worth of threats and online abuse, so the threat that he was going to get on a plane, when our family’s address was online, was another blow. I was angry that someone was posting this”.
Asked “whose doors” they felt Rupert would be kicking down, a witness said, “Mine. I could only imagine that he intended some sort of violence”.
Regarding Rupert’s GoFundMe page, each of the witnesses said they were aware of it, and that they recognised many of the names of contributors to his self-funding campaign.
Asked whether they were aware that Rupert was at Christ Church Primary School on 5 September last year, the witnesses all stated that they were.
Those who lived relatively close to the school stated that they were “petrified” when they learned he was so close to their homes. “I could only think about how to protect my child”, said one, while another said, “I found it just unbelievable…it was scary, horrendous to think that he was in our neighbourhood and armed”.
A witness said, “My mind goes immediately to my children…in case I were to get murdered”. Noting that their children had already gone through so much during and after the hoax, a witness said when they saw Rupert’s post outside the school, they imagined their children “without a parent…I don’t get it, I just don’t understand”.
Court adjourned following the witness statements, and will resume tomorrow at 10 a.m. (third time lucky?), at which time the jury will be shown video evidence, and the defence will have a chance to present evidence.
We know we’ve mentioned this before, and we hate to be tedious, but we’d like to remind any newcomers that it is crucial that we or any of our commenters avoid discussion of Rupert’s guilt or innocence, as well as speculation regarding the process or outcome of the trial. Please reserve such opinions until the trial is complete, to ensure that justice is properly served, and that we do not find ourselves in contempt of court.