April Jones: Did teen deserve jail term for 'sick' Facebook posts?
Fury as Matthew Woods gets 12 weeks' prison for 'abhorrent' comments about missing girl
THE PUBLIC gallery erupted in cheers and applause when teenager Matthew Woods was jailed for three months yesterday after posting "abhorrent" comments about missing schoolgirl April Jones on his Facebook page.
But today critics have attacked the decision to put the 19-year-old in prison, saying bad jokes and poor taste are not an issue for the criminal justice system.
Woods, from Chorley, Lancashire, said his comments about April - including some of a sexually explicit nature - were inspired by Sickipedia, a website that "trades in sick jokes".
He ended up in court after members of the public complained about the posts. Before his arrest, a mob of 50 people reportedly descended on his home.
Woods was convicted under section 127 of the Communications Act 2003, which makes it an offence to send a message that is "grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character" using a "public electronic communications network".
Woods claimed he was drunk when he posted the comments but pleaded guilty at Chorley Magistrates Court. JP Dr Bill Hudson told him: "This was a disgusting and despicable crime which the bench find completely abhorrent."
Today barrister and legal blogger Adam Wagner said he was worried this law is no longer fit for purpose.
"In 2003, only perhaps Mark Zuckerberg knew that within the next few years literally billions of people would become mini-publishers on a public communications network," he said. "Now, the accidental combination of an old (in technology terms) law with revolutionary new media may be making criminals of many of us, and that cannot be a good thing."
Kier Starmer QC, director of public prosecutions, is planning to issue new guidelines on how the legal system should deal with online trolls. For many, this cannot come soon enough.
Jerome Taylor, a reporter for The Independent, tweets that the Woods case was "another grossly disproportionate response from judiciary to an online post".
In the Daily Mirror, anonymous blogger and journalist 'Fleet Street Fox' writes: "The online community needs policing but if it's done too harshly there'll be no one left to talk to. It won't be a free-for-all where rich and poor, famous and unknown can all mingle happily and go about their business. It will be the kind of marketplace where everyone is quiet and stares at the floor, frightened to speak in case they're banged up for 18 weeks for saying the wrong thing."
Woods’s so-called jokes about April were "sick, not criminal", says John Kampfner in The Guardian. "Direct incitement to violence is one thing. But we cannot and should not sentence people for bad jokes, poor taste and terrible manners. That is an issue for parents, teachers and, most importantly, peer groups,” he says, adding that the best response to abusive trolls is "no response at all".