Fourth man cleared of 'Facebook' riot charges


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The Independent Online

A fourth man has been cleared of encouraging rioting or looting via Facebook during last August's civil disturbances.

Christopher Milligan, 26, of Nelson, Lancashire, was accused of intentionally encouraging or assisting rioting through a post on the social networking website.

On August 9 he was said to have wrote : "Riot alert, meeting Duke Bar 8pm. Faces covered, weapons advised, come on peeps."

Milligan, formerly known as Schofield, was cleared by a jury at Lancaster Crown Court earlier this week after it deliberated for just over 90 minutes.

His acquittal follows the same verdicts recently delivered against Karl Manley, 28, Stefan Johnson, 22, and Warren Calvert, 19, who all posted similar messages but argued they were merely joking and did not believe any trouble would take place.

Their fate contrasted with that of Jordan Blackshaw, 21, from Northwich, Cheshire, and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, from Warrington, Cheshire, who last year were each jailed for four years for inciting riots on Facebook.

Both men pleaded guilty to encouraging crime in their home towns, although there were no outbreaks of disorder in either location.

Blackshaw's lawyers claimed he was joking.

Their sentences were later upheld by the Court of Appeal.

Friends Manley and Johnson wrote online: "PC World Lancaster, 7.30pm. Let the looting begin. Could do with a new laptop!!!!"

Manley, from Heysham, updated his Facebook status with the message after watching the widespread disorder throughout London on television.

It was then copied by Johnson, from Lancaster, who put the same posting on to his account.

A police support unit and community beat officers were sent to the retail outlet after the message was posted at lunchtime on August 9 but no troublemakers showed up in the evening and no incidents took place.

Both were acquitted last week at Lancaster Crown Court of encouraging or assisting an offence of burglary to be committed, which they believed would happen or would be encouraged.

The jury took 30 minutes in reaching its decision.

The week before in a separate trial, Calvert, 19, of Heysham, told Preston Crown Court he too was joking when he issued an invitation on Facebook to start a riot last August.

The jury in his case took less than 10 minutes to find him not guilty of intentionally encouraging or assisting the commission of an offence.