The death of Ann Maguire, a teacher in Leeds, made the headlines. There was, from almost all quarters, an outpouring of sympathy. Not quite all however – when events such as that happen there will always be a few idiots who take to the internet to give a contrary view. One such person was Robert Riley, a 42 year old from Cwmavon.
What did he say?
That’s a good question. The news report is slightly coy about this. We know that they were “offensive comments” in addition to “countless other vile comments” made by him which were “hurtful, especially to the friends and family of Mrs Maguire and the wider community of the school and area”.
The Prosecutor indicated that there were “a number of offensive tweet, only some of which related to the murder of Ann Maguire”. Some were also racist and others religiously offensive – including the missing Malaysian Plane, the Korean Ferry disaster and Auschwitz.
The only concrete thing that is stated to have been said is that he “wouldn’t have stopped” with just killing Mrs Maguire, but would have “stabbed all the others”.
Hopefully in a case like this, the sentencing remarks will be published. We do know that the magistrates took a starting point of 9 weeks, increased it by 3 weeks because it was a ‘hate crime’ and then reduced to 8 weeks because of the prompt guilty plea.
Why is this a criminal offence?
Good question. The short answer is that I don’t know. On what we have set out above, was Mr Riley insensitive? Yes. An idiot? Clearly. Should he not have posted as he did? Absolutely. Was it morally reprehensible? Certainly. But none of that means that it should be a criminal offence.
There is a genuine concern that the police and CPS are too quick to act, and this has done nothing to help contradict this. The CPS adopted a (very sensible) policy of when they would prosecute people for unlawful tweeting. This would not appear to be in accordance with it. It was mindless yobbery rather than targeted action.
Investigating this is costly. Prosecuting it is costly. Imprisoning him is costly. Is it worth it? I sincerely doubt it. And what is actually more important that the money is the principle – freedom of speech is a vital freedom and it includes the freedom to be controversial, offensive and the freedom to be a twat.
But what of the sentence?
Well, it’s pretty much in line with what you expect in these high profile twitter cases, although I would argue that this sort of thing should not really be met with the full force of a custodial sentence. Here, Mr Riley appears to be someone not of good character (and was subject to a Community Order) which is certainly an aggravating factor. The two people that got prosecuted for tweeting at Caroline Criado-Perez got 8 and 12 weeks for what seem to be much more serious offending, but it is difficult to say without exact details of the tweets.
The bigger problem, as stated above, is that it is doubtful whether he should have been prosecuted. In light of that, it’s hard to say too much sensible about the sentence, other than this is not the sort of case where Mr Riley should get his hopes about an appeal