If the news reports are accurate, then we have a strong contender for the most ludicrous prosecution of 2016.
Mark Seddon, a 48 year old pest controller, had separated from his girlfriend. It appears to have been a bit acrimonious, and Mr Seddon was a bit miffed that his girlfriend had a new partner.
He expressed this in a WhatsApp message to his ex where he unleashed a mock Shakespearean insult, calling her new parter a “fat bellied cod head”.
And, er, that’s it.
Mr Seddon pleaded guilty to sending a grossly offensive electronic message, presumably contrary to s127 Communications Act 2003.
He was fined £500 and ordered to pay £85 costs and a £50 victim surcharge (this is indicative of a “Single offensive, indecent, obscene or menacing call of short duration, having no significant impact on receiver” as per the Sentencing Guidelines – p34).
There was also a Restraining Order imposed, banning Mr Seddon from contacting his ex for 2 years.
That, hopefully, is a clue to something more going on here. It may be that there is a history of harassment between Mr Seddon and her, that would explain why this was prosecuted. Even then, it does seem somewhat of an overreaction.
Due to various high profile cases, the DPP issued ‘Guidelines on prosecuting cases involving communications sent via social media‘.
There are 4 categories set out –
- Credible threat
- Specific targeting of an individual which may constitute harassment, stalking, etc
- Breaches of a court order or similar
- Anything else
The general rule is that those in (1)-(3) will be prosecuted. In relation to (4), an assessment of whether to prosecute “will be subject to a high threshold and in many cases a prosecution is unlikely to be in the public interest.”
It goes on then to set out various things to take into account in deciding on whether there should be a prosecution.
On the face of it, although this was a message that was directed to an individual about another individual, it is hard to see that this was in category (2).
Looking at it as a whole, it is hard to see that, even if there was a background of previous harassment (in a non legal sense), it is possibly in the public interest to prosecute.
Mr Seddon did plead guilty, and had a lawyer, so consideration was presumably given to whether the prosecution should be challenged and it was decided not to.
Hopefully the situation will be a bit clearer and we will have an explanation from the CPS as to why the prosecution was brought.