He looked it up in a dictionary

The Daily Mail did a long piece on Twitter harassment of women last August. I generally avoid the Mail, but this article is worth it.

Some of those involved in the recent tirade against Miss Criado-Perez , two female MPs, and other high-profile women, are exposed today following our investigation into this dark sub-culture.

They are indeed; names, pictures, cities, jobs, the works.

On Monday, less than 24 hours after Miss Criado-Perez was targeted by Johnny@beware0088, she received another message: ‘Back to the kitchen, you t***.’ In subsequent tweets from the same ‘troll’, she was called a ‘slut’ and a ‘prostitute.’

He also made a revolting remark about her anatomy. And there was more. ‘Go and tell all your followers to go and wash all their faces with acid including you [Miss Criado-Perez] as well.’

It wasn’t hard to discover who was responsible. For the culprit tweeted using his real name: Neil Law@NeilOfficial. Law, in his 20s, is a plumber from Aberdeen. On Facebook, he is pictured partying with his arms around attractive young women, with one friend dubbing him ‘Stud Law’.

Like Carl Attard, he was utterly unrepentant when taken to task by appalled Twitter users. Asked whether he thought his behaviour was ‘normal and made him proud,’ Law insisted defiantly: ‘Yes, yes I do. And yes it does make me proud.’

It is an offence under Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 punishable by up to six months in prison to send an electronic message that is ‘grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene, or menacing character’.

Gosh. That certainly is an offence that gets committed a lot.

Even though more than 3,000 people have been prosecuted over the past two years or so, the statistics cover all forms of electronic communication, including phone calls.

In reality, there have been few prosecutions for actual internet trolling. Presumably, this is why Law, a Manchester United supporter, didn’t feel compelled to hide behind a pseudonym.

But Neil Law, we can report, was in for a nasty surprise. Someone discovered, from Facebook, that he worked for Barratt Developments and reported him to his employers. He may now face the sack.

‘These are extremely serious allegations against one of our employees who has now been suspended pending a formal investigation,’ said a company spokesman. ‘Barratt has strict policies against any form of harassment or threatening behaviour and any employee that’s found contravening them would be subject to the appropriate disciplinary action.’

Serious? I thought we were supposed to just laugh it off. Even if that means we have to laugh 500 times a day, we were supposed to laugh it off. I wonder why Barratt doesn’t think so.

Wesley Meredith, 30, is an instructor at the Royal School of Military Engineering, the main training establishment for the Royal Engineers.

He lives in Brighton with his partner and young daughter. Alongside a photograph of the youngster on Facebook, he has written: ‘Proud as punch.’

Yet last week, he sent a message to the Twitter pages of The Everyday Sexism Project, a website that catalogues women’s experiences of sexism, whose founder, Laura Bates, had just appeared on Jeremy Vine’s lunchtime Radio 2 show.

The message read: ‘I’d say she [Miss Bates] needs a good rogering if you ask me.’ Meredith also sent the tweet to Vine’s radio programme…

Meredith’s partner was fully aware of the tweet, but seemed unperturbed when we called at their home on the South coast this week. Answering the door, she said he had been ‘very careful’ about the wording, and had even taken the trouble of checking the precise meaning of ‘a good rogering’ in a dictionary.

That’s nice. A woman thinks it’s fine for a man to respond to a woman’s ideas with saying she needs to be fucked. It’s not that she’s wrong, it’s that she’s defective in the “good rogering” department.

There’s a poignant little portrait of John Nimmo, too, the one who just pleaded guilty.

It’s all very edifying. Take a bow, humanity.


  1. screechymonkey says

    I’m torn between my pleasure at seeing some of these people get their comeuppance, and my discomfort at having the government prosecute people for “grossly offensive” or “indecent” speech. Perhaps the U.K. is fortunate enough to have Crown prosecutors who can be trusted with such power — in the U.S., I think we all know what kind of speech would be prosecuted under such a law if it were constitutionally permitted.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    From the syntax and context, I think “He looked it up …”

    One day his daughter will look him up on the internet!

  3. says

    You have a point about that section of the law. I looked it up to see if there was anything about “unwanted” or “unsolicited” or “for the purpose of harassment” or similar, and there isn’t.


    127 Improper use of public electronic communications network

    (1)A person is guilty of an offence if he—

    (a)sends by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character; or

    (b)causes any such message or matter to be so sent.

  4. says

    Yeah as much as I like seeing these people get their comeuppance, this law being used is terrible. Same one was used against the guy who made a joke about blowing up Robin Hood Airport. Obvious hyperbole and it should never have gone to trial, nearly destroyed his life. I wouldn’t trust our government to not misuse it. We have an established church for gawds sake, a few rude tweets to the Arch Bish could get you in hot water as well. Also strikes me that (b) could be used to prosecute Ricky Gervais who constantly sets his followers on “gorps” on Twitter. Or am I reading that wrong?

  5. Bernard Bumner says

    Social media was definitely not the target of the The Communications Act 2003 (the year that MySpace was founded), as far as I understand it this offence was essentially envsioned as the digital equivalent of making menacing communications via the postal network.

    It has become a very useful tool for the Police and CPS.

  6. AsqJames says

    If you think Section 127 is maybe a little too broad, you’re going to love the new Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill which provides for Injunctions Preventing Nuisance and Annoyance.

    And yes, as drafted it really does provide for the the courts to punish behaviour considered “a nuisance” or “annoying”, or even the threat of such behaviour.

  7. says

    Those who think the law as written is potentially a danger to free speech are quite correct, and it’s also worth noting that it mirrors the law in relation to snail mail, originally dating to 1935, where case law has established (my source is the commentary in Halsbury’s Laws of England) that “The test of obscenity is objective and the character of the addressee is immaterial.”

    In the wake of the Gay News Trial in the UK, the then editor of The Freethinker, the late great Bill McIlroy, was fined for sending copies of the poem through the post. He was hoping to trigger another blasphemy prosecution at the time, but the authorities sidestepped that embarrassment by using different legislation!

    The current law in relation to post, if anyone wants to look it up is ss.85 of the Postal Services Act 2000:

    (3) A person commits an offence if he sends by post a postal packet which encloses—

    (a) any indecent or obscene print, painting, photograph, lithograph, engraving, cinematograph film or other record of a picture or pictures, book, card or written communication, or

    (b) any other indecent or obscene article (whether or not of a similar kind to those mentioned in paragraph (a)).

    Similar laws apply to telephone communication.

    It’s also worth noting that there is case law in relation to all this, so you have to read the laws in relation to the way cases have been decided.

    In relation to “menacing”, that was tested in the successful appeal in Chambers v DPP (the airport bombing joke on Twitter case), where context was found to be important. The judges in that case also said:

    “Satirical, or iconoclastic, or rude comment, the expression of unpopular or unfashionable opinion about serious or trivial matters, banter or humour, even if distasteful to some or painful to those subjected to it should and no doubt will continue at their customary level, quite undiminished by this legislation. Given the submissions by Mr Cooper, we should perhaps add that for those who have the inclination to use “Twitter” for the purpose, Shakespeare can be quoted unbowdlerised, and with Edgar, at the end of King Lear, they are free to speak not what they ought to say, but what they feel.”

    Which of course might help you win if you got to trial, but wouldn’t necessarily stop a prosecution in the first place.

    “Grossly offensive” was tested in Collins v DPP (2006). According to Halsbury’s:

    “It is for the justices to determine as a question of fact whether a message is grossly offensive for these purposes, applying the standards of an open and just multi-racial society (ie via the application of reasonably enlightened, but not perfectionist, contemporary standards); and the words must be judged in the context of the message and all relevant circumstances”

    So whether something is “indecent” or “obscene” is an objective test based on community standards, but whether something is “offensive” can take other aspects into consideration.

    Halsburys: “Whether a message falls into the category of grossly offensive depends on whether it is couched in terms liable to cause gross offence to those to whom it relates”

    and: “For an offence to be committed the defendant has to intend his words to be grossly offensive to those to whom they relate, or be aware that they might be taken to be so.”

    The Collins case, by the way, involved racist language via telephone and telephone answerphone to the office of an MP over 2 years. At the original trial the charges were dismissed, the language found to be offensive but not grossly offensive, and arising from frustration at the way his, Collins’, concerns were being dealt with. The DPP appealed, and won.

    The judgment is worth reading: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200506/ldjudgmt/jd060719/collin.pdf


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