Twitter prosecutions: Re-examining five notorious cases in light of new guidelines

Chris Parsons

The proposed new guidance on how the law deals with social media users has been determined after a series of high-profile cases.

Last year saw several instances in which Twitter and Facebook users received fines and, in some cases jail sentences, for posts which were widely circulated.

Yahoo! News UK takes a look at some of the biggest online cases, and analyses how the offenders' punishments may have been different under proposed new guidelines.


Jobless teenager Woods, from Chorley, Lancashire, made a number of offensive and derogatory posts about missing youngsters April Jones and Madeleine McCann on his Facebook page.

The 19-year-old's 'abhorrent' comments were deemed so awful that an angry mob of around 50 people descended on his house when details of the charge emerged.

Woods was jailed for three months in October, with a public gallery at Chorley Magistrates Court erupting as he was sent down.

JP Dr Bill Hudson told the teenager as he was sentenced: "This was a disgusting and despicable crime which the bench find completely abhorrent."

Under the new proposed laws, there are question marks as to whether someone like Woods would be prosecuted, as messages have to be shown to be more than offensive, shocking or disturbing for criminal charges to be brought.


Student Stacey, from Pontypridd, South Wales, tweeted abusive messages when footballer Fabric Muamba collapsed with a cardiac arrest during an FA Cup match for Bolton against Tottenham.

The 21-year-old posted on the micro-blogging site immediately after the incident: 'LOL [laughing out loud], **** Muamba. He’s dead!!! #haha.'

His messages were forwarded on to the police by many other Twitter users, including former Liverpool and England striker turned pundit Stan Collymore.

After admitting racially aggravated harassment, Stacey was sent to prison for 56 days in March this year.

District Judge John Charles told him: "You committed this offence while you were drunk and it is clear you immediately regretted it.

"But you must learn how to handle your alcohol better."

In light of the guidelines suggested today, Stacey could have escaped prosecution as he was drunk when he posted the messages, and immediately regretted them.


Chambers, a 28-year-old accountant, was convicted in May 2010 after tweeting that he would blow up Robin Hood Airport in South Yorkshire when it disrupted his travel plans by closing due to heavy snow.

Chambers tweeted: "Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your s**t together, otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!!"

The message was seen by an airport manager, who passed it on to airport police, who in turn passed it to South Yorkshire Police, who arrested him.

When the CPS charged Chambers, he was eventually prosecuted under the 2003 Communications Act, and told to £600 costs, a £385 fine and £15 victim surcharge.

A first appeal against the conviction was rejected, but in July this year the High Court overturned the decision, with a judge ruling that the tweet was clearly not menacing.


The nine people ordered to pay compensation to the woman raped by footballer Ched Evans would likely receive the same punishment under new guidelines.

The naming of the woman breached an automatic court order banning the identification of victims of sexual offences.

The former Sheffield United striker's cousin, Gemma Thomas, along with eight other defendants, were all ordered to pay the victim £624 each in a landmark ruling.

Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer QC said cases similar to this one would still be prosecuted robustly under new guidelines.


Semi-professional footballer Thomas, who plays for Welsh side Port Talbot, sent a homophobic tweet about Olympic diver Tom Daley earlier this year.

However, Thomas, whose tweet was widely circulated on the site after he posted it, was not pursued in the courts as Kier Starmer ruled that the message was "not so grossly offensive that criminal charges need to be brought".

Mr Starmer said in September: "Starmer said: "This was, in essence, a one-off offensive Twitter message, intended for family and friends, which made its way into the public domain. It was not intended to reach Mr Daley or Mr Waterfield, it was not part of a campaign, it was not intended to incite others and Mr Thomas removed it reasonably swiftly and has expressed remorse.

"Before reaching a final decision in this case, Mr Daley and Mr Waterfield were consulted by the CPS and both indicated that they did not think this case needed a prosecution."

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