Isabella Storey & John Nimmo jailed for Criado-Perez and Creasy tweets

Isabella Storey & John Nimmo jailed for Criado-Perez and Creasy tweets

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Introduction

We have previously looked at the case of Isabella Storey and John Nimmo who pleaded guilty on 8th January 2014 to an offence under s127 Communications Act 2003. They were sentenced on 24th January after pre-sentence reports had been obtained.

The tweets that were sent have not been published, but a flavour of them can be obtained from the press reports as well as the sentencing remarks:

Isabella Sorley… Between 10.14 and 14.46 on 28TH July you posted 10 tweets in an account your own name and traceable to you. These are a background, and not the subject of the charge. Between 02.25 and 02.55 (so in the early hours) of 30TH July 2013 you posted six more tweets on another account … In summary these tweets said: “Fuck off and die…you should have jumped in front of horses, go die; I will find you and you don’t want to know what I will do when I do… kill yourself before I do; rape is the last of your worries; I’ve just got out of prison and would happily do more time to see you berried; seriously go kill yourself! I will get less time for that; rape?! I’d do a lot worse things than rape you.

John Nimmo, you posted 20 tweets on the topic. They started on 27TH July at 22.31 and continued until 29TH July at 11.50. Five different accounts were used. Among the messages were: “ Ya not that gd looking to rape u be fine; I will find you; come to geordieland (Newcastle) bitch; just think it could be somebody that knows you personally; the police will do nothing; rape her nice ass; could I help with that lol; the things I cud do to u; dumb blond bitch.

It is presumed that these are a fair representation of the tweets that were sent.

Sentence

Here, the sentencing remarks have been published, which is a very welcome development.

The District Judge was guided by the Magistrates’ Court Sentencing Guidelines (page 40 for the s127 offence). You can see that these are fairly out of date (referring mainly to telephone calls), but by analogy it is in the highest category – “Single call where extreme language used and substantial distress or fear caused to receiver; OR One of a series of similar calls as described in box above“.

The starting point is 6 weeks custody with a range of a Community Order to 12 weeks custody. Because these were a series of tweets, a sentence towards the top end of the bracket would be expected.

The Judge noted that the effect on Ms Criado-Perez and Ms Creasy was substantial. An aggravating feature was the fact that the tweets were anonymous.

There was a further aggravating feature in relation to Ms Sorley. This was the fact that she has 25 convictions since November 2010, all alcohol related, and most for being drunk and disorderly.

The Judge was rather hesitant in ascribing any mitigating features to either of the defendant.

After giving full credit for the plea of guilty, Ms Sorley was sentenced to 12 weeks imprisonment and Mr Nimmo 8 weeks. The difference is primarily due to the fact that Mr Nimmo had not been in trouble before.

The Judge then considered whether the sentence could be suspended, but concluded “the serious harm caused by the offending behaviour makes it inappropriate to impose anything other than an immediate custodial sentence“.

A Compensation Order was made in the sum of £800 for each defendant. There was no order for costs and the Judge stated (correctly) that the Victim surcharge does not apply when a Magistrates Court passes an immediate custodial sentence.

Comment

The sentences are, on the guidelines, understandable and about right. I do have concerns about the sentence however.

I think that the Judge was wrong to rule out suspending either case. Both are clearly people with ‘issues’ and for Ms Sorley there is a clear history of alcohol misuse that needs tackling. Mr Nimmo has never been in trouble before and the court’s should be very reluctant to send a first time offender to prison, particularly for such a short period of time.

The reasons given by the Judge aren’t particularly great. There’s no rule that a sentence can’t be suspended if the offence is serious, and I would suggest that whilst it is a perhaps a factor, it is one of many (and not the most important one).

One problem is that whilst suspended sentences under the Criminal Justice Act have been in force for ten years, it is notable that the Court of Appeal have not given any real guidance as to when a sentence should be suspended. Cynically this is to stop a flood of appeals. And whilst that may be understandable, this is an area that is in need of guidance.

Both these are people who should have had far greater consideration given to whether the sentence should be suspended and it seems to me that this is little point (as well as being counter-productive) in ordering a term of imprisonment to immediate. It may be that there will be an appeal, and we will see what happens there.

I’m also concerned as to the compensation. The Judge recognised that it will take about three years for the payment to be made. as a general rule of thumb it should be possible for the financial penalties to be paid in a year. It is also very rare to order compensation to be paid by someone who is not well off if they are being sent to prison.

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

15 COMMENTS

  1. To suspend or not suspend. That is tue question. The chief magistrate must have attached great weigh to the “life-changing”impact the offending had on Caroline Criado-Perez. Whether the sentences are appealed would be interesting. Could be a risky, but the compensation question could make it worthwhile.

    • Well have a read of some of the abuse Caroline was subjected to not be just these two people but by others also. Following is a quote from Caroline Criado-Perez talking about some of the threats made to her…

      “I remember the man who told me I’d never track him down, only feel his cock while he was raping me; the man who told me he would pistol-whip me over and over until I lost consciousness, while my children watched, and then burn my flesh; the man who told me he had a sniper rifle aimed directly at my head and did I have any last words… the man who told me to place both my hands on his cock and stroke it till he came on my eyeballs or he would slit my throat; the man who told me I would be dead and gone that night, and that I should kiss my pussy goodbye, as a group of them would “break it irreparably”; the man who told me a group of them would mutilate my genitals with scissors and set my house on file while I begged to die. I can see their words on the screen. I remember where I was when I got them. I remember the fear, the horror, the despair. I remember feeling sick. I remember not being able to sleep, I remember thinking it would never end…”

      • It is of course possible, L-E-S if I may so call you without disrespect, that any or all of these individuals were and are women. Ms Criado-Perez does not know. One of those prosecuted was. Online a woman can adopt male talk and of course vice-versa. I expect you are a woman, you expect that I am a man, but you don’t know.

        Which of course is part of what makes all this so nasty – she can simply not know which of them was in fact a tosser, in every sense, in a bedsit, living out his fantasies at the keyboard but incapable of lifting a finger in physical harm to anyone, and which, possibly, was a near neighbour (of either gender) with serious plans. Stats would suggest that anyone with serious plans was more probably male than female, but stats aren’t much help when you are frightened.

  2. I would not have suspended, especially on Storey who has a worse record. “Pour encourager les autres” and all that. If you practice in the magistrates’ courts you will know that many of our customers (I write with my lay-JP hat on, not that of my civil-litigator day job) regard anything except actual imprisonment as a let-off, and need to see that this sort of thing can end up with a journey into custody.

    • Nor would I have suspended the sentences in these cases.

      It was encouraging to learn that the Chief Magistrate had the benefit of “victim impact statements” (unlike most magistrates’ courts), and the judge has clearly indicated that he took account of the deeply disturbing nature of the abuse to which the victims in this case were subjected, and rightly so.

      The compensation question is an interesting one, and his remarks should be copied to every Magistrates’ Court as a reminder that the MCSG (the Magistrates’ Courts Sentencing Guidelines) explicitly set out that payment of compensation (which Ms C-P has already said will be donated to charity) can be spread out over a period of up to 3 years. The only factual point on which I would take issue with Mr Riddle is over the Victim Surcharge. This categorically does not go to victims of crime, but is used to subsidise necessary activities of the Courts Service, such as witness support. The time has come for a proper system of criminal compensation to be developed, with the victim surcharge on all offences being used to pump prime a real Compensation Fund, from which victims can receive appropriate compensation, in one go, rather than the cruel “dripping tap” reminder of amounts sometimes as low as £1 a week (which must cost several times more to process!) for – as we have seen above – up to three years. I hope that HMCTS will allow Ms C-P to designate the (charity) account to which these payments are to be made, rather than requiring her to do so on an ongoing basis over the next three years (& my sympathies also go out to Ms Creasy for the effect of such a constant “echo” of her ordeal). A judge-led system of awards would ensure that these were made on an appropriate basis within an agreed framework.

      To sum up, the combination of a very short custodial sentence and ongoing deduction from benefits seems to me a most appropriate balancing act on the part of the Chief Magistrate.

  3. The mechanics of Twitter are that a troll can be blocked within a couple of seconds and reported to Twitter in a few more. This is what 99.99% of users do.
    CarolineCriado-Perez did neither of these, instead she engaged and retweeted, vastly exacerbating the situation. Retweeting a threatening tweet is itself a criminal offence so perhaps CarolineCriado-Perez should be charged.
    Any cynic would be suspicious that perhaps CarolineCriado-Perez manipulated the situation to garner publicity for herself.
    As it is, by not blocking trolls we have two idiots in prison who should not be there. Many people are culpable in this unjust situation.

  4. I wonder if some members of the public would benefit from actually reading the learned judge’s findings and this quite sensible post from a police office on why these complaints cannot be ignored http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/marthagill/100256523/why-we-cant-ignore-twitter-abuse-a-guest-post-by-a-police-officer/

    On reading the learned judge’s comments, it appears that neither of these defendants gave much of an indication to probation that they would actually benefit from a community order.

    In that case, I do see where else the judge could go other than time in custody.

    Perhaps this will be a lesson to those who think they can tweet abuse with impunity.

    This is not “protected speech” by any analysis. No, this would not fly in this US.

    As for the commenter immediately above who posts under the handle of the victim in this case, who says that she, “manipulated the situation” by re-tweeting – all I have to say is the defendants did their own doubling-down. Now they are paying the price. Good.

  5. Andrew, I take your point that the gender or these people aren’t known and an assumption is being made however as far as I am aware women rarely, if ever, bring the threat of their genitalia into an argument. Men can’t resist mentioning their penis in the basest of terms and lobbing it, so to speak, in there in a threatening manner when attempting to frighten a woman. Strangely they are more impressed by this curious little organ than any woman I’ve ever met. p.s. I have no objection to the acronym.

  6. L-E-S – a woman who – for whatever reason, perhaps to inspire fear in ms C-P – wanted to sound like a man would use the sort of language which would make them sound like men.

    There have been women who have disguised themselves as men to join the Army – there were several in the Napoleonic Wars – and quite apart from a certain curiosity about how they managed never, ever to undress or relieve themselves in front of their comrades-in-arms, I would have to assume that they swore – literally in the case of the cavalry – like troopers!

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