Chief prosecutor reveals lenient stance after footballer is cleared of abusing Tom Daley
Offensive tweets will not lead to prosecution – if they’re a one-off
Following stints with Reuters and the Press Association, Martin Hickman joined The Independent as a news editor in 2001. He became the Consumer Affairs Correspondent in September 2005 and has run the paper's trenchant campaigns on packaging, bank charges and factory-farmed chicken. He writes on subjects as diverse as food, finance, energy and fashion. With Tom Watson, he is author of a new book on the phone hacking scandal, Dial M for Murdoch - News Corporation and the Corruption of Britain.
Friday 21 September 2012
Prosecutors signalled a more relaxed attitude towards abusive messages on social networking websites yesterday after deciding not to bring charges against a footballer who posted a homophobic remark about the diver Tom Daley.
Daniel Thomas, a midfielder with Port Talbot FC, was arrested by police last month for criticising Daley, pictured, and Pete Waterfield on Twitter when they missed out on the medals in the 10m synchronised diving at the London Olympics.
Under the Communications Act 2003, sending a “grossly offensive” communication on a public electronic communications network is a criminal offence punishable by a fine or six months’ imprisonment.
But Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions, said Thomas’s message was a one-off, rather than part of a campaign, and “not so grossly offensive that criminal charges need to be brought”.
He said that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) would issue new guidelines on when to bring charges against a growing number of cases of bullying and abuse online. It will hold a series of meetings with lawyers, academics, technologists and police over the next month to develop them.
A number of people have been prosecuted for sending tweets, most famously Paul Chambers, who responded to delays at snowbound Robin Hood Airport in South Yorkshire by jokingly threatening to blow the airport “sky high”. The trainee accountant was fined £385 with £600 costs and lost his job, but was cleared on appeal in June.
In the latest case, after the end of the 10m synchronised diving final, a tweet appeared on Thomas’s account, @10danthomas10, which said: “If there is any consolation for finishing fourth at least Daley and Waterfield can go and bum each other #teamHIV.”
Thomas, 28, from Port Talbot, deleted the message, which he said had been intended to be humorous, and expressed his remorse.
Explaining his decision not to prosecute, Mr Starmer said: “This was a one-off offensive Twitter message, intended for family and friends, which made its way into the public domain.” He added that Daley and Waterfield were consulted by the CPS and neither supported a prosecution.
“The case was “one of a growing number involving the use of social media that the CPS has had to consider”, he added. “There are likely to be many more.”
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