There can be no denying the case of Ann Maguire's murder was a horrific and tragic event. A schoolteacher of over 40 years and close to retirement she was stabbed to death in a classroom in front of some 30 pupils. A 15 year old boy was charged with her murder. It would only be normal to view this as a genuinely terrible event, one which perhaps leaves you feeling sorry for her family and perhaps even gives you pause for thought about where our society is going. But what if you don't care? What if you're too stupid to empathise with people and you believe saying something nasty about this event is somehow cool? Apparently you go to prison.
The above picture is Jake Newsome, he was sentenced to six weeks in prison for making a horrible comment on Facebook regarding the murder. I'm not going to defend Mr Newsome because he's beneath contempt but I am going to question the wisdom of imprisoning people for saying 'offensive' things because that's a ridiculously slippery slope. Before we go on I'm fully aware of how hurtful the Macguire family would find such a comment (although had it not been sensationalised in the media would they ever have known it was out there?), and I agree that if it were someone in my family who was mocked in this way after such an event I'd want them punished too. Thing is, justice is not supposed to be emotional. The whole point is that the law is applied fairly and without prejudice.
As best as I can find out his comment went something like this:
Personally, I’m glad that teacher got stabbed up. Feel sorry for the kid. He should have p***** on her too.
I can't think what prompted him to say that and I imagine it was simply out of badness not knowing what issues he might have had with teachers or the like. Nothing excuses such a comment, it's stupidity incarnate, but there's nothing there which should result in criminal prosecution. It's his opinion and surely the idea of having freedom of speech is that we're going to come across opinions we don't agree with. I decided to look into the legal aspect of this rather than rely on gut feeling and what I found is quite interesting.
The CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) have four categories of message for which you can be prosecuted.
- Communications which may constitute credible threats of violence to the person or damage to property.
- Communications which specifically target an individual or individuals and which may constitute harassment or stalking within the meaning of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.
- Communications which may amount to a breach of a court order.
- Communications which do not fall into any of the categories above and fall to be considered separately: i.e. those which may be considered grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or false.
It would seem obvious which Newsome was charged under. But I have to wonder if what he posted was actually "grossly offensive" under law. At what point did someone posting something generally offensive fall within the public interest to prosecute? The CPS themselves point out that any such comments would "be subject to a high threshold and in many cases a prosecution is unlikely to be in the public interest", just how high is this threshold? Countless posts on the Internet mock horrible events, countless mock the dead and the dying and they obviously aren't in the public interest to prosecute because people are entitled to have an opinion, even a disgusting one.
You might disagree with me and believe such actions should be punished by law but you have to think about this pretty carefully. Why would the CPS choose to prosecute? Could it be that it was politically beneficial to do so? That's not 'tin foil hat' territory as the government have already sought to milk the murder of Mrs Macguire with regards to knife crime legislation. Also, where does this stop? We've already seen a previous prosecution over this affair, we've seen a man arrested for repeating a Winston Churchill speech, and the government are always looking for ways to shoehorn yet more draconian measures along these lines including the protection of religion, even from comedy.
More and more we are finding that every aspect of our lives, down to our thoughts, are under scrutiny. It's happening here, it's happening in Europe, and it's happening in the US. As our societies find themselves being encouraged to have their hands held people seem to be agreeing with alarming regularity. If you found this young man's comments offensive (and you probably should to some degree or other) then be offended, have your say on the matter, campaign for better education for both children and parents, do whatever you have to do but don't...DON'T...keep turning to the government to protect you from being offended. That is one power they can only ever extend and never relinquish and as it extends you might find that some of your views turn out to be offensive to someone and it could be you in the dock. Don't believe me? Take a look at history and let me know how confident you feel then.
First they came for the pond life, I didn't speak out...