Pair jailed over abusive tweets to feminist campaigner

Isabella Sorley, John Nimmo Sorley and Nimmo bombarded Ms Criado-Perez with messages last July

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Two people have been jailed for sending abusive messages on Twitter to feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez.

Isabella Sorley, 23, of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, was sentenced to 12 weeks in prison and John Nimmo, 25, of South Shields, was jailed for eight weeks.

They had pleaded guilty at Westminster Magistrates' Court to improper use of a communications network.

After sentencing, Ms Criado-Perez said she was relieved the judge understood the impact the abuse had had on her.

Their messages were sent last July after Ms Criado-Perez led a campaign using social media for a female figure to appear on a Bank of England note.

Nimmo also targeted Stella Creasy, the Labour MP for Walthamstow, who was among the high-profile public figures who backed the bid.

'Heightened fear'

The court heard that one tweet from Sorley started with an expletive and continued: "Die you worthless piece of crap." Ms Criado-Perez was also told to "go kill yourself".

Sorley also sent the message: "I've only just got out of prison and would happily do more time to see you berried!!"

In a separate set of abusive messages, Nimmo told Ms Criado-Perez to "shut up" and made references to rape followed by "I will find you (smiley face)".

District Judge Howard Riddle said the effects on both women were "substantial" and it was "hard to imagine more extreme threats".

Caroline Criado-Perez Caroline Criado-Perez campaigned for a female figure to appear on a Bank of England note

Ms Criado-Perez felt "terrified" every time the doorbell rang, he said, while Ms Creasy had a panic button installed at her home.

The judge said of the abusive tweets: "The fact that they were anonymous heightened the fear.

"The victims had no way of knowing how dangerous the people making the threats were, whether they had just come out of prison, or how to recognise and avoid them if they came across them in public."

The court heard that university-educated Sorley had 25 previous convictions, the majority for being drunk and disorderly.

While on bail for this case she also committed two offences of assaulting a police officer and is awaiting sentence for an assault on New Year's Day, the court was told.

Sean Caulfield, defending Sorley, said she herself was a "victim" of new technology as she did not understand the impact of what she was doing.

Paul Kennedy, defending Nimmo, described him as a "somewhat sad individual" who is "effectively a social recluse".

Mr Kennedy said that, when Nimmo's original tweet was responded to and retweeted, it encouraged him to send more messages as he saw it as an "indication of popularity".

'Terrifying and scarring'

Ms Criado-Perez said in a statement: "It's hard to get my thoughts together at the moment as my stomach is churning - hearing the outcome has made me realise how tense and anxious I have been feeling. But here goes.

Analysis

Isabella Sorley shook her head as her abusive tweets were read out in court. The graduate who already has 25 convictions - mostly for being drunk and disorderly - claimed she sent these messages in the early hours when she was inebriated.

Her lawyer insisted the 22-year-old was herself a victim, "of a lack of understanding of new technology - and how powerful it is".

John Nimmo - according to his lawyer - is a "social recluse" from South Shields who only leaves his house to empty the bins.

The 25-year-old, who had no previous convictions, was said to have no social boundaries and did not appreciate the harm he had caused.

When a producer from BBC Two's Newsnight programme tracked Nimmo down after he had sent the abuse, the former call centre worker told him: "The police will do nothing, it's only Twitter."

Northumbria Police did do something though - and today the recluse who rarely went out was led away to his new, temporary home - a prison cell.

"I did not attend the sentencing as I didn't feel I could cope with being in court with them - and I didn't feel sure that the judge would understand how terrifying and scarring the whole experience has been for me, which again is not something I could face.

"I feel immensely relieved that the judge clearly has understood the severity of the impact this abuse has had on me."

Sorley and Nimmo admitted earlier this month to sending by means of a public electronic communications network messages which are menacing in character, under the Communications Act 2003.

The judge said both defendants would serve half their sentences in custody and ordered them to pay £800 each in compensation. Ms Criado-Perez said the damages awarded to her would go to charity.

The Metropolitan Police said the pair were arrested after an investigation by its Cyber Crime Unit, following complaints from two women who were targeted on social networking sites.

Scotland Yard said a 32-year-old man arrested in Bristol in August remained on bail as part of the same investigation.

A 27-year-old man arrested in York in November has been released with no further action.

David Wright, director of the UK Safer Internet Centre, said the sentences showed the courts took such offences seriously.

He said: "It sets the tone. We've seen a number of cases over the last 12 months; that this notion of trolling, of bullying online, has just grown."

A spokesman for Twitter UK said: "Our Trust and Safety team works 24 hours a day to respond to reports of abusive tweets. We are increasing the size of this team to make out response time even faster.

"We cannot stop people saying offensive things on Twitter. But we take action when content is reported to us that is against our rules or is illegal."

The Bank of England announced last July that author Jane Austen would appear on the next £10 note.

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