Ched Evans: Nine admit naming rape victim on social media

Ched Evans Wales footballer Ched Evans was jailed for five years in April

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Nine people have each been told to pay £624 to a woman raped by footballer Ched Evans after they admitted naming her on Twitter and Facebook.

The former Sheffield United and Wales striker was jailed for five years in April for raping the 19-year-old.

Seven men and three women, aged between 18 and 27 from north Wales and Sheffield, have been accused of revealing the victim's identity.

The law grants victims and alleged victims of rape lifelong anonymity.

One of the women denied the charge and was granted bail until 21 January.

Among the nine who admitted the offence at Prestatyn magistrates' court were Evans's cousin Gemma Thomas from Rhyl, the footballer's friend Craig McDonald, 26, from Prestatyn and 25-year-old biology school teacher Holly Price from Prestatyn.

Analysis

When the internet arrived it seemed like a vast, new unregulated frontier, where people could blog and post with impunity.

And as social networking took off, it felt as though conversations once had down the pub, could be had in writing, online because somehow, it wasn't the same as publication in print.

Through a series of prosecutions, the public is slowly being educated in a simple truth.

Publication, is publication, is publication.

You blog, post and tweet on criminal cases bound by all of the laws the mainstream media has always known about and had to observe.

And ignorance of the law is no defence. All nine of those who pleaded guilty today claimed they didn't know that naming a rape victim was itself a crime.

But is dated criminal law dealing fairly with online crime it never envisaged? A juror jailed for eight months for making Facebook contact with an acquitted defendant, a man jailed for 12 weeks for posting offensive comments about the missing five year old April Jones.

Were those offences worse than naming and 'outing' a rape victim, a crime punishable only by a fine?

One thing is for sure. In criminal cases, you hit the keys of your phone or pc at your peril.

The other defendants to plead guilty were Michael Ashton, 21, from Llanddulas; Benjamin Davies, 27, from Rhyl; David Cardwell, 25, from Sheffield; Paul Devine, 26, from Sheffield; Dominic Green, 23, from Rhyl; and Shaun Littler, 22, from Sheffield.

They were all charged with publishing material likely lead members of the public to identify the complainant in a rape case, contrary to the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992.

Magistrates heard the victim was accused of "crying rape" and "money-grabbing" on the social networks.

The nine who pleaded guilty claimed they were not aware naming her was a criminal offence.

Evans was jailed at Caernarfon Crown Court on 20 April for raping the woman in a Rhyl hotel room.

The footballer admitted having sex with her but the woman told the jury that she had no memory of the incident - and the prosecution argued that she was too drunk to consent.

Following the conclusion of the trial, the victim was named by these nine people between 20-22 April on Twitter and Facebook.

Magistrates heard that following Evans's conviction, the case attracted a huge amount of interest nationally and internationally with about 6,000 messages on Twitter.

'Idiot'

Nita Dowell, prosecuting, said the victim was subjected to abuse and that North Wales Police received numerous complaints from members of the public and from groups such as Rape Crisis.

She said the first defendant to be identified was biology teacher Holly Price who retweeted a comment and the court heard Price told police she had been an "idiot" and wanted to apologise to the victim.

Green named the victim on his Facebook page and the court was told he accepted that it was an "act of utter stupidity" and that he did not realise it was in essence a form of publication.

Lawyer Christopher Hutchins: "We treat social media far too often as conversational"

Thomas named the victim on her Twitter, as did Davies who said he was drunk at the time he posted the tweet.

Ashton named the victim and said she "made him sick" as well as other abuse.

Cardwell, a Sheffield United fan, said he was drunk when he named and abused her and did not realise it was illegal. He later deleted the tweet.

Miss Dowell said Devine posted a tweet which was of "particular concern". The court heard that Devine was angry as Sheffield United had just lost to MK Dons, but the court heard he wanted to apologise to the victim.

Littler also turned to Twitter to make accusations against the victim and later told police he was "devastated" that Sheffield United had lost Evans as a result of the trial, as he was the team's best player.

MacDonald also abused the victim saying she was "money grabbing" but later deleted the tweet and said he was sorry for his actions.

One defendant, Alexandra Hewitt, 24, from Broughton, denied the charge.

She was granted bail and will return to the court for trial on 21 January.

Evans is due to appeal against the rape conviction at the Court of Appeal on Tuesday.

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