It’s going to be some time before all the dust settles on Sabine McNeill’s trial, but by now many are aware of the verdict: she was found guilty on all four counts of stalking, as well as on six counts of breaching her restraining order.
Bear in mind that Sabine has not been sentenced yet; that will take place later this week, and while we’ve heard any number of guesses as to how it might go, ultimately it will be up to the court to decide.
Today we thought we’d delve into the whys and wherefores of Friday’s verdict: which charges stuck, which didn’t, and what it may mean. It’s important to remember that juries do not give reasons for their decisions; their job is to weigh the evidence and make a unanimous decision. Any guesses we may make as to their thoughts or motives are purely speculative.
However, the charges on which the jury came back with “not guilty” decisions do have some characteristics in common, and it might be useful to consider what those were, as it can give us insight into what will and will not stand up in court in any future cases.
On Day 2 of Sabine’s 18-day trial, Miranda Moore QC, prosecuting, laid out the foundation for the four charges of stalking:
Counts 1–4, she said, allege that between 2015 and 2017, Sabine pursued a course of conduct which amounted to stalking four individuals who were named as alleged Satanic child abusers by Ella Draper in 2014. These people cannot be named due to reporting restrictions designed to protect the identities of children involved in this case.
As a result, the people involved have had to change their lives drastically. Not only were their families investigated by social services to determine whether they were sexually abusing their children, but they have suffered from ruined businesses, and have had to deal with unimaginable emotional and physical impacts.
Stalking is a crime which takes place over a period of time, and has a cumulative effect, Moore said.
Although Sabine’s defence counsel argued that these individuals were not targeted deliberately, and that Sabine was misguided and deluded but could not have foreseen that her actions could be interpreted as stalking, the jury found Sabine guilty on all four of these counts.
One point of particular interest is that in Rupert Quaintance’s August 2017 trial, it was argued—unsuccessfully, as it turned out—that targeting a group of people did not constitute stalking individuals within that group. Rupert’s jury didn’t buy it, and neither did the Court of Appeal when Rupert attempted to challenge his verdict and sentence.
In Sabine’s trial, HHJ Sally Cahill QC made a point of noting that when a group of people is targeted, individuals within that group can legitimately claim to have been targeted.
“To target a readily identifiable group is to target the members of that group”, she said.
To determine guilt on the stalking charges required that the jury determine:
- Whether Sabine had definitely engaged in a course of conduct amounting to harassment;
- Whether this harassment amounted to stalking;
- Whether the stalking caused serious alarm or distress;
- Whether she knew or ought to have known that her behaviour would cause such alarm or distress;
- Whether it was more likely than not that her behaviour was for the purpose of detecting or preventing a crime; and
- Whether her behaviour was reasonable
Clearly, the jury was able to fulfill these criteria, and found the defendant guilty.
Breaches of restraining order
The “breach of restraining order” charges can be roughly broken down into four groups:
- Direct posts to Sabine’s Whistleblower Kids blog;
- Links which led to Sabine’s Google Drive, which contained files such as one labelled “Cult Details”, naming the parents and children who were claimed to be part of the Satanic baby-eating cult in Hampstead;
- Two “live” breaches—one in person at the Church of England Synod in February 2018, and one by phone shortly thereafter;
- Links to Twitter and/or Facebook, which led to various sites such as Change.org or WordPress blogs, which in turn led back to the Whistleblower Kids blog.
The jury seemed far less inclined to vote “guilty” on alleged breaches in the last category, possibly because an element of doubt was raised about the “link to a link to a link” issue.
To determine guilt, each juror must be as sure as they can be that the defendant committed the crime, and that they intended to do so. In the case of the “link to a link to a link” charges, we can see how this would be very difficult to decide.
For example, Count 14 on the indictment was returned as “not guilty”.
The details of this count were that on 20 November 2017, Sabine tweeted a link which led to an article on “digital unaccountability” on her We Who Oppose Deception blog. On the sidebar of that post, one can find a link to a Change.org petition called “Stop the Forced Removal of Children by Social Services across all EU Member States”. A link was found on that page which linked back to Whistleblower Kids.
While the Crown argued that this was just a particularly wily way to re-share old material, the jury’s problem would have been to determine whether Sabine was aware of what she was doing. Did she know that in tweeting a link to one blog, she was inadvertently sending some viewers to another, and then another, which contained material which her restraining order prohibited her from re-sharing?
Whether one believes that it was an intentional breach or not, an element of doubt might have been raised, and that would have been quite properly sufficient to generate a verdict of “not guilty” on that charge.
Others of a similar ilk were also rejected by the jury.
The charges which stood, meanwhile, were those were it was relatively easy to demonstrate intent. As Sabine’s defence pointed out, the entire Whistleblower Kids blog was one gigantic breach of the restraining order…except that there was never any order in place to remove it from the internet. Given Sabine’s determination to keep the Hampstead hoax going, we would not have expected her to remove that blog without a significant push from the courts.
When Sabine drew attention to the blog in a more obvious way—by posting seemingly irrelevant poetry on it, for example—it was clear that she was attempting to attract public attention to the site and its nasty contents. She was, as she admitted, on a campaign; and she stated during the trial that she would believe in this hoax as long as she draws breath.
This case was a complex one, and from time to time we wondered what the jury must be making of it all. It seems that they really did get the picture.