We covered the case of Adam Johnson who was convicted on 3rd March 2016 of sexual activity with a child. The victim is entitled to lifelong anonymity and there were the usual warnings against publishing anything that might identify her.
The Courts take this very seriously – David Dinsmore, the Sun editor, was convicted of publishing a very heavily pixelated photograph of, so that she was all but unidentifiable.
On 23rd March, shortly ahead of Mr Johnson’s sentencing hearing, it was reported that a man had been given a ‘harassment warning’.
What did he say?
It was reported that he “allegedly posting images of the schoolgirl and claiming that she “bragged and lied”“. This had, unsurprisingly, caused the victim a “considerable deal of distress and harassment”.
Apparently, he wrote, slightly incoherently, “A don’t care if get locked up stand by my beliefs does this look like a girl who scared leave house who that young didn’t no what was happening who bragged and lied who Perseud and prolonged couldn’t give a slightest care in world.”
It is not entirely clear, but it seems that this was a general posting on Facebook. There is (or was – it has been taken down) a Facebook page called “Justice for Johnson – Adam Johnson’s Appeal Fight run by Faye Johnson
To anyone who has seen the case, this all might seem rather misguided, not least because by pleading guilty to two Counts, Mr Johnson was accepting that he broke the law. One can understand that a sister is going to support her brother of course, and we wouldn’t want to stop people for campaigning on causes, provided that they stick within the law.
What is a harassment warning?
The formal name is a ‘Police Information Notice’. There is a good summary of the law from the House of Commons Library (which is often a good source of information).
The important point to note is that this is not a finding or admission of guilt – it is not a conviction or caution, and is closer to a Fixed Penalty Notice if anything.
They are often used to nip behaviour in the bud, or when a prosecution would have an uncertain prospect of success, or not be in the public interest, as examples. There is CPS guidance available as to when one is appropriate.
We don’t know the reason in this case, so it can be any of the above, or something different.
Hopefully, this will be sufficient to warn others who are tempted to publish the victim’s name, that the police will take the matter seriously. Sadly, I suspect that no everyone will heed that, and there will be prosecutions to follow …