Garron Helm jailed for an anti-semitic tweet

Garron Helm jailed for an anti-semitic tweet

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Introduction

The day after the newspapers picked up the story from many months ago that errant tweeters would be sent to prison for two years, another social media prosecution hits the headlines.

On 20th October 2014 Garron Helm (described as having links to an ‘extremist right wing group’) was sent to prison for 4 weeks for sending an anti-semitic tweet to Luciana Berger the MP for Liverpool Waverley.

The prosecution was probably under the Malicious Communications Act 1988 which requires the tweet to have been grossly offensive.

 

What was said?

One of the most frustrating things about these cases is that the news outlets never report exactly what is said. Sometimes this is understandable, but it would be useful for there to be some indication at least as to why we are paying for people to be prosecuted and imprisoned.

Here, the BBC were less than clear. The Liverpool Echo however, had more detail. It seems that there was a photo “which showed a Holocaust-era star on the MP’s head with the hashtag ‘Hitler was right’. Additionally, “The tweet then called the MP a “communist Jewess” and read: “You can always trust a Jew to show their true colours eventually.

Ms Berger stated that she was (understandably) ‘deeply shocked’ by the tweet. The Judge said that the offence was racially aggravated (again, perhaps understandably).

 

What was the sentence?

The Judge would have been guided by the Magistrates’ Court Sentencing Guidelines. The best place to start would be at page 42. Based on the sentence, it would fall in the category of – “Single call where extreme language used and substantial distress or fear caused to receiver“.

Additionally, the surcharge was imposed in the sum of £80. Incidentally, we think that this may have been wrong. This is because the offence was committed on 7th August 2014, which is before the law changed so that someone sent to prison by the Magistrates’ Court could get a surcharge imposed – see here for more details of this.

 

Why is it a criminal offence?

The CPS have their own guidelines as to when people should be prosecuted for ‘social media’ offences.

This clearly does not fall into the first 3 categories, so it then comes down to an assessment of whether this should be prosecuted in all the circumstances of the case.

It is a difficult one. The tweet is clearly a vile and racist one, and is illegal under the law. However, it is a different question whether a prosecution is compatible with Art 10 and the CPS policy. Whether a prosecution should have followed in this case is less clear cut. I would suggest that whilst it is not clear cut, especially when considering there is only one tweet, this should not have been prosecuted (with the caveat that there may well be other matters that we are not aware of).

One consequence of making these sorts of offences either way is that people can then have trial by jury. Whilst it may mean higher penalties, it also means that people who are concerned about freedom of speech have the protection of a jury – and in the end who better to decided what is and isn’t acceptable but a jury? It also means that the CPS will have to think a bit more carefully before prosecuting people, which can only be a good thing.

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Dan is a barrister at 2 Dr. Johnson’s Buildings practising in crime.

9 COMMENTS

  1. “Ms Berger stated that she was (understandably) ‘deeply shocked’ by the tweet. The Judge said that the offence was racially aggravated (again, perhaps understandably).”

    How terrible. What did the nasty man say?

    “You can always trust a Jew to show their true colours eventually.” [defendant’s tweet]

    Does he really believe that? Not any more, he doesn’t. He has admitted error.

    “Mr Helm “accepted the message was fundamentally wrong.”” [defence counsel quoted in the LIverpool Echo]

    Poor Ms Berger. He should not have made so “fundamentally wrong” an assertion, when the opposite is the truth. No, one CANNOT always trust a Jew to show his or her true colours. Jews are typically no more to be trusted than the rest of us.

    This raises an important question as to whether being a “Jew” is belonging to a “race” (as Hitler would have had us believe), or belonging to a faith community (as many who call themselves Jews would prefer us to understand the nature of Jewry in the modern world). If the latter rather than the former is the correct usage then the offence wasn’t exactly “racially aggravated”, was it? It was a comment, rather, about a religion. As such, it was mild in comparison to some of the anti-Christian and anti-Moslem comments I have read just during the past week.

    Perhaps his offence was upsetting a politician. They are very sensitive and humble creatures, are politicians. Insulting a politician is like battering a baby.

    Well they’ve made an example of him. The question on my mind is an example of *what* exactly? A dissident who has been sent to prison for upsetting a politician apparently. Should reading about this make me feel safer? Or less safe? (Clue: I am a dissident. I am not a politician.)

  2. This sort of comment used to be shrugged off as part of the rough and tumble of life, especially if you are a politician who puts themselves up for public criticism. However, nowadays we are encouraged by The Law to be sensitive creatures, incapable of ignoring idiots or defending ourselves. The Law is requiring us nowadays never to be horrid, and never to say anything critical of anyone. What a boring world we are creating – but what a lucrative one for the lawyers; and what a costly one for the taxpayers!

  3. What this young man said shouldn’t be the issue, unless he threatened someone, or some particular group, with violence, which he clearly didn’t. The issue under threat here is freedom of speech. His right to say what he thinks has been trampled on by the system, a system many accuse jews of being responsible for through their control of the MSM. They (jews) deny it at every turn, but incidents like this prove their critics fears are not without foundation. Our forefathers fought and died to protect our right to free speech. Are we going to stand idly by and watch their sacrifices being trampled underfoot? His only sin was his anti semitic rant, and that in itself should never be regarded as a criminal offense. The day anti semitism becomes illegal is the day all criticism of Israel and the jews becomes illegal. This would clearly be an untenable situation.

  4. She is a Jewess, from what I understand, and why is putting the star of David on her face considered an offence, if someone put a British flag on my face I wouldn’t take offence.
    You can always trust a Jew to show their true colours is not of itself offenseive, the only comment that might be considered offensive might be the Hitler was right quote. Given the level of Ignorance surrounding WWII, that’s perhaps understandable.
    Since I hardly think it was in reference to that time that Adolf said 1+1=2 then yes, possibly he meant, on the spur of the moment, to hurt with that statemenmt, but who isn’t regularly acosted by insults.
    It’s regularly implied in the British Newspapers that we Brits are fat, beer swilling knuckledraggers, guilty of the slave trade and wiping out the Americanm Indians who will not get a Job and deserve to have our racist little noses rubbed in diversity and be demographically anihilated for being so lazy..

    who do I sue ?

    How many times are UKIPers labelled as fruitcakes and closet racists.
    It could be argued that some tribes are more protected than others or that being offended is now aither very lucrative becoming a weapon of choice.

    When are the Judges going to start telling these perenial and opportunistic victims to stop being so delicate.

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