Online comment crimes: Key cases

Prosecutors have been given new guidelines which could result in fewer people being charged for posting offensive messages on social networks in England and Wales.

The Director of Public Prosecutions said people should only face a trial if their comments on Twitter, Facebook or elsewhere go beyond merely being offensive.

So what are some of the key cases ?

Paul Chambers: The bomb plot that never was

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Media captionPaul Chambers: "I want to move on, get a job and have a holiday"

Paul Chambers was found guilty in May 2010 of sending a "menacing electronic communication". He was living in Doncaster, South Yorkshire, when he tweeted that he would blow up nearby Robin Hood Airport when it closed after heavy snow - potentially disrupting his travel plans.

He tweeted: "Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your shit together, otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!!"

A security manager at the airport saw the tweet five days later - while off duty and at home. He decided it wasn't credible, but felt duty bound to pass it to airport police. They took no action - but referred it to South Yorkshire Police who eventually arrested Mr Chambers. Officers concluded it was a foolish joke - but still referred it to the Crown Prosecution Service, which then charged Mr Chambers.

His first appeal was dismissed by a crown court judge in November 2010, who said the electronic communication was "clearly menacing". The High Court quashed that conviction, saying it clearly was not.

Liam Stacey: The racist comment while drunk

Stacey was a student who tweeted a racially offensive comment about the footballer, Fabrice Muamba, and was subsequently jailed for 56 days.

The 21-year-old from Pontypridd admitted inciting racial hatred in his remarks about the Bolton Wanderers player, who had collapsed during a FA Cup tie at Tottenham after suffering a cardiac arrest. A judge said that the comments were "vile and abhorrent" and there was no alternative to jail.

After Stacey posted the offensive comments, he was challenged online by other Twitter users. He responded with a number of offensive posts aimed at them. When he first realised the gravity of what he had done, he suggested his account had been hacked.

He then tried to delete his account but was arrested. He later told police that he tweeted the offensive comments because he had been drunk.

Azhar Ahmed: Anger over soldiers

Image caption Ahmed had posted the message on Facebook just days soldiers' death

In October 2012, Azhar Ahmed from Ravensthorpe in West Yorkshire was fined and given a community order after being found guilty of sending a grossly offensive communication on Facebook, following the deaths of six soldiers in Afghanistan.

The 20-year-old posted that he thought "all soldiers should die and go to hell".

Ahmed told his trial that he had been trying to voice legitimate concerns about victims of war who were ignored, but that he had no idea his comments would upset so many.

He said he replied with apologies to many people who commented on his Facebook page and when some told him they had lost relatives in Afghanistan, he realised how serious it was.

"That's when I realised it was unacceptable for them to see something so upsetting and distressing," he added.

But a district judge said that while the law should not stop legitimate political opinions being strongly voiced, the test was whether the comments went "beyond the pale of what's tolerable in our society".

The rape victim who was named

Wales footballer Ched Evans was jailed for five years in April 2012 for raping a 19-year old woman. But the woman was later named on Twitter and Facebook, despite the long-standing ban on publicly naming victims of sexual offences.

By the summer, some 17 people had been arrested by the police as part of their investigation into the naming of the victim. North Wales Police later charged seven men and two women who admitted the offence when brought before the courts.

Magistrates heard that following Evans' conviction, the case had attracted a great deal of online interest, including 6,000 tweets. But over the course of three days a number of people decided to name the victim online, suggesting that she was "crying rape" and "money-grabbing". All of those who pleaded guilty and were fined said that they did not realise they had broken the law by naming the woman.

One of the tweeters who turned on the victim said online that he had been "devastated" that Sheffield United had lost its best player because of the woman's complaint.

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