#rapetruck sticker almosts lands James Hellewell in hot water

#rapetruck sticker almosts lands James Hellewell in hot water

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From the Daily Mail

On 20 November 2014, a rather disturbing image was doing the rounds on Twitter etc. and it wasn’t long before the Mail, the BBC and other picked it up.

It appears that James Hellewell from somewhere near Leeds had taken a picture of his mother, bound, blindfolded and gagged in the back of his pick up truck, had the image printed and then fixed it to the tailgate of his truck, to create the impression that he was driving around having kidnapped a woman and placed her in the rear of his truck (what a joker, eh?).

Anyhow…as was entirely predictable, someone called the police and Mr Hellewell had a visit from the police:

Ch Insp Steve Palmer said:

“It was clear that a number of people had found the image offensive and had been alarmed and distressed by it being displayed in public.

The registered keeper of the vehicle was traced and spoken to by officers and made aware of the concerns raised and the potential for the continued display of the image to be treated as a public order offence.”

Is that a little over the top? Let’s see…

The Public Order Act 1986 s.5 is the weapon of choice here:

(1) A person is guilty of an offence if he—

(a) [not relevant]

(b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening or abusive,

within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.

Section 6(4) clarifies the requisite mental element of the offence:

A person is guilty of an offence under section 5 only if he intends his words or behaviour, or the writing, sign or other visible representation, to be threatening, abusive or insulting, or is aware that it may be threatening, abusive or insulting or (as the case may be) he intends his behaviour to be or is aware that it may be disorderly.

If there were a prosecution under s.5, one wonders whether it could truly be said that the sticker was “threatening, abusive or insulting” (probably not) – and perhaps also whether Mr Hellewell was aware that his behaviour may be disorderly (I suspect he probably was).

When contacted for a comment, he said: “”It’s boring now, it’s removed and I’ve apologised, get a grip.”

Comment

Some will no doubt have found this amusing, others, it appears were concerned and apparently suffered “distress”. Either way, a prosecution would seem way over the top and it appears that the response of the police in this instance – to go and have a quiet word – was more rational (though we question whether the mention of a public order offence was a) necessary and b) accurate.)

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Lyndon is the General Editor of Current Sentencing Practice and the Criminal Appeal Reports (Sentencing)

3 COMMENTS

  1. Kidnap is never a funny matter. However, I do wonder where some people actually get off. Yes, his sticker may have been in bad taste, but it’s not exactly the crime of the century. And let’s be honest, who would actually drive a truck in broad daylight advertising that they had kidnapped someone?

    What people forget is that tv, movies and video games use this theme more than abundtly to make money, but apparently that’s fine. In no way is it different, other than the guy wasn’t trying to make money, here.

    Some people really do need to lighten up and stop worrying about what other people are doing and keep out of things that do not concern them

  2. s.5 Public Order Act 1986 is indeed the weapon of choice but they could use the “disorderly” limb. The Court of Appeal effectively ruled (the Stephen Gough naked rambler appeal) that anything unusual is disorderly. They wanted to find a way to convict him of something so they refused to allow any evidence regarding harm/benefit and widened the definition of disorderly. The catch nearly all has had the nearly deleted.

    • I presume you mean the High Court – [2013] EWHC 3267 (admin). Thanks for mentioning “disorderly” – it’s certainly another option however I’m not convinced that it would be as “open and shut” as you seem to think:

      At [15]: In my judgment, it is not necessary to decide whether the judge was right to conclude that the appellant was threatening, abusive or insulting: the district judge was clearly entitled to conclude that, by walking through a town centre entirely naked, he was violating public order or, in the language of the case contributing “to a breakdown of peaceful and law-abiding behaviour as evidenced by the reactions of the public”: he was thus disorderly.

      Did the reactions of the public in this case evidence that Hellewell’s actions caused a breakdown of peaceful and law-abiding behaviour? I’m not so sure.

      I certainly share you concerns about the way in which s.5 could be used following Gough v DPP, however. Thanks for commenting.

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