Louise Mensch's internet 'troll' Frank Zimmerman avoids jail

 

An internet "troll" who sent a threatening email to a Conservative MP was banned today from contacting a host of celebrities - including Lord Sugar.

Frank Zimmerman escaped jail by a whisker when a district judge suspended a 26-week prison sentence for two years after he sent an offensive email to Corby MP Louise Mensch.

The bearded 60-year-old, who was taken to court by police today after being arrested for failing to attend his sentencing last week, was given the suspended sentence, ordered to pay costs and made subject of a restraining order.

The order - until further notice - bans the agoraphobic from contacting a string of well-known people.

The list includes Mrs Mensch, her businessman husband Peter, and Mrs Mensch's ex-husband, property developer Anthony LoCicero.

Lord Sugar, the Amstrad businessman and star of hit TV Show The Apprentice, was named on the restraining order, as was Terence Blacker, a columnist with the Independent newspaper and Zimmerman's former neighbour in London.

Also listed was General Sir Mike Jackson - once head of the British Army - and David Petraeus, former US Army commander in Iraq and Afghanistan and now director of the CIA.

A previous hearing heard how Zimmerman had last year targeted the outspoken Mrs Mensch, telling her to stop using the social networking site Twitter or face the consequences.

The defendant, who lives in Gloucester, told Mrs Mensch she faced a "Sophie's Choice" - a reference to a novel in which heroine Sophie has to choose between the life of her son or daughter at a Nazi concentration camp.

The email, which was dated August 22, 2011, said: "Subject: You have been HACKED :D

"Louise Mensch, nee Bagshawe, the slut of Twitter.

"We are Anonymous and we don't like rude c**** like you and your nouveau riche husband Peter Mensch. You have been hacked!

"We are inside your computer and all your phones, everywhere ... and inside your homes.

"So get off Twitter.

"We see you are still on Twitter. We have sent a camera crew to photograph you and your kids and will post it all over the net, including Twitter. C***face.

"You now have a Sophie's Choice. Which kid is to go? One will, count on it c***.

"Have a nice day

"From all of us at MIT 617-253-1000."

The Northamptonshire MP, 40, who has a Twitter following of 50,000, immediately called in the police and arranged security for her family.

Unbowed, she went on to tweet to followers: "Had some morons threaten my children by email. To those who sent it; get stuffed losers."

The offensive email was later traced to the IP address of Zimmerman's home computer.

He was charged with an offence of sending by public communication network an offensive, indecent, obscene, menacing message or matter.

The case against Zimmerman, of Spinney Road, Barnwood, Gloucester, had been proven in his absence after he failed to attend court - blaming his agoraphobia and depression.

He was supposed to have been sentenced at Cheltenham Magistrates' Court last week but failed to attend.

Police arrested him this morning for breach of bail, an offence he admitted once he was brought to court.

Zimmerman, who is extremely well spoken, wore a dark blue coat and glasses for today's short hearing.

The last time he had faced District Judge Martin Brown he had appeared via video link from a side room but today he was in the dock of court room one surrounded by two guards, having been brought up in handcuffs from the cells.

Zimmerman does not accept his guilt and blamed hackers for sending the email from his IP address.

At a previous hearing he said he had received correspondence from broadband supplier Virgin Media stating his computer had been hacked but has, so far, failed to produce the letter to the court.

Kirsty Gordon-Cleaver, defending, said her client was maintaining his innocence.

"Mr Zimmerman wants the court to know that he is considering an appeal," she said.

"He never will contact the people on the restraining order and it does not cause him any problems.

"He does, however, uphold his innocence in respect of this."

Passing sentence, the district judge told Zimmerman that he had committed a very serious crime.

"I have heard about the allegations and in my view they went beyond mere mischief," he said.

"These were ugly, unpleasant and serious remarks to the complainant by email. Quite understandably they caused her great concern.

"They cross the custody threshold because of the seriousness.

"Because of your age and because of your conditions and I accept that you have certain problems, although I do not accept they are as severe as you make out, I am prepared to suspend the sentence."

As part of the suspended sentence, Zimmerman is banned from contacting Mrs Mensch.

On hearing that, the defendant replied: "There are no problems with that happening. You have my word."

The district judge continued: "If you do, you will be in breach of that suspended sentence and you will give the court no alternative but to implement it.

"If you commit any further offences, that will also trigger the activation of that suspended sentence."

District Judge Brown told Zimmerman that if he breached the restraining order, he could be jailed for up to five years.

The defendant was also given a four-week sentence for the bail offence, which runs concurrently to the 26-week sentence, and ordered to pay £300 prosecution costs.

The district judge said he had decided against banning Zimmerman from using a computer.

"It had been my intention to prohibit him from using a computer and I accept the human rights angle and I accept the problems of policing that," he said.

Before Zimmerman was released, he asked the judge: "May I ask how I am able to get home? I have no money."

The judge said he did not have any duty to get him home and added: "You have had plenty of time to organise your finances."

As he left the dock, Zimmerman said: "I thank you for your time."

Previously, Zimmerman told the court that he does not have enough money to even eat.

"I have no means of getting home," he said.

"I am not physically capable of walking and I have no money. I have no money. I simply cannot afford to eat.

"I still have a vestige of pride. I do not have enough money to eat continually for four weeks every month, so every month I don't eat for seven days.

"It is 11 days since I had anything to eat.

"There is no way that I can afford a taxi to Cheltenham and back."

Mrs Mensch took to Twitter to praise the police and the House of Commons authorities.

"Now finally free to talk about this," she wrote.

"I want to thank Det Sgt Iggy Azad & all at House of Commons & Northants Police.

"Other women besides myself were targeted by this man; and police forces (not knowing who was behind threats) were forced to devote resources.

"Sentence seems proportionate and just. I hope it will deter others from this kind of abuse and bullying."

PA

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