Man who taught girlfriend's pet pug dog to perform Nazi salutes fined £800

Case provoked concern from freedom of expression campaigners and comedians 

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
@lizziedearden
Monday 23 April 2018 11:46
Man who taught girlfriend's pet pug dog to perform Nazi salutes leaves court after being fined £800

A YouTuber who trained his girlfriend's dog to perform Nazi salutes has been fined £800 for being grossly offensive.

Mark Meechan, who blogs under the name Count Dankula, was previously found guilty under the Communications Act over the video.

Viewed more than three million times on YouTube, it showed his girlfriend’s pug raising its paw apparently in response to statements including “sieg heil” and calls to murder Jewish people.

Meechan, of Coatbridge in North Lanarkshire, denied committing an offence and said he made the video to annoy his girlfriend in April 2016.

Dozens of supporters gathered outside court for the sentencing, including the English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson, while fundraising campaigns have started to cover the fine.

Airdrie Sheriff Court heard the footage violated laws against grossly offensive material and “contained menacing, anti-Semitic and racist material”.

Sheriff Derek O'Carroll said Meechan’s video was grossly offensive and that his girlfriend did not even subscribe to the video channel he posted it on.

"The centrepiece of your video consists of you repeating the phrase 'gas the Jews' over and over again as a command to a dog, which then reacts,” he told the defendant.

Former English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson (centre) outside Airdrie Sheriff Court in support of Mark Meechan

"You use the command 'sieg heil', having trained the dog to raise its paw in response and the video shows a clip of a Nuremberg rally and a flashing image of Hitler with strident music.

"You say the video was only intended as a joke to upset your girlfriend, whose dog you used, and nothing more."

The judge did not accept Meechan's defence that the video was made as a private joke and pointed out that he had “not taken any steps to prevent the video being shared publicly”.

"You deliberately chose the Holocaust as the theme of the video,” he told the court.

"You purposely used the command 'gas the Jews' as the centrepiece of what you called the entire joke, surrounding the 'gas the Jews' centrepiece with Nazi imagery and the ‘seig heil’ command so there could be no doubt what historical events you were referring to."

Sheriff O'Carroll said the right to freedom of expression was very important but "in all modern democratic countries the law necessarily places some limits on that right".

Speaking outside court, Meechan described the video as a joke centred around the “juxtaposition of having an adorable animal react to something vulgar”.

Meechan said he would appeal against his conviction over concerns it sets a legal precedent, which the judge denied.

“A really dangerous precedent has been set for people to say things, their context to be completely ignored and then they can be convicted for it,” he said outside the court.

“You don't get to decide the context of what you said, other people don't get to, the court gets to - that's dangerous.”

Meechan’s defence lawyer, Ross Brown, described him as a “tolerant and liberal man” and argued the case could have an impact on comedians.

“His difficulty, it seems, was that he was someone who enjoyed shock humour, both giving and receiving it, and went about his life under the impression that he lived in a jurisdiction which permitted its citizens the right to freely express themselves,” he added.

Meechan’s YouTube channel, featuring a photo of Buddha the pug, remains online and he describes himself as a “professional shitposter”.

The case provoked widespread concern from comedians and free speech campaigners including Ricky Gervais, who wrote on Twitter: “If you don't believe in a person's right to say things that you might find 'grossly offensive', then you don't believe in Freedom of Speech.”

Index on Censorship said it “fundamentally disagreed” with the ruling, saying that freedom of expression includes the right to offend.

Count Dankula makes passionate defence of freedom of speech after guilty verdict

“Defending everyone’s right to free speech must include defending the rights of those who say things we find shocking or offensive,” said chief executive Jodie Ginsberg. “Otherwise the freedom is meaningless.”

Several high-profile human rights lawyers also raised concern over the case, including Doughty Street Chambers barrister Adam Wagner, who called the law Meechan was convicted under “dangerous to free speech”.

He argued that criminalising a public message for “gross offence” is subjective and open to abuse, unnecessarily going beyond separate laws against hate speech.

The case has become a cause célèbre for the far-right, receiving support from extremists including Robinson who have been banned from Twitter and other social networks over their own posts.

Additional reporting by PA