Digital

Jail for student in Muamba Twitter race rant a perversion of justice

Swansea Student Liam Stacey has been sentenced to 56 days for a “racially aggravated public order offence” after tweeting a very poor taste joke about footballer Fabrice Muamba followed by several racist and inflammatory comments.

The 21-year-old claimed he had been drinking all day and was quite drunk by the time he’d sent tweets. This is most likely true. It was St Patrick’s Day and the last day of the Six Nations rugby championship, and quite a lot of people would have spent that day in the pub. But while it may be true, it’s hardly a defence.

Is Stacey a racist? A troll? A drunk and mouthy young man? Possibly a little of each. But none of these are illegal. Stacey’s conviction is for a public order offence.

One can understand why public order laws exist. The police may need to be able to take people off the streets to prevent imminent violence, and be able to punish people for causing disruptions.

But was there actually any risk that Stacey was threatening public order? I don’t think there was. A row on Twitter is not the same thing as shouting abuse in the street, where there may be immediate physical consequences. Twitter may be like a pub, in the sense that it’s a space for social interaction, but it’s definitely not the pub in that when tempers fray, no one’s going to get glassed. The worst that will happen is someone will block you.

Only one of Stacey’s tweets was violent in nature, and that did not contain any racial abuse. So has he been jailed for eight weeks solely for being offensive at a time when people on Twitter were congratulating themselves for the outpouring of goodwill to the fallen Muamba? If so, then people who care about free expression should be very, very worried.

Padraig Reidy is news editor at Index

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36 Comments

  1. Posted 27Mar12 at 11:19 am | Permalink
    Vicky

    Although yes, you are correct, there was not an ‘immediate’ danger of physical altercation, reports within hours on Twitter stated Stacey’s location from Foursquare-style check-ins and reports of him being assaulted were coming through.

    Police did the right thing in taking him off the streets, as much for his own safety as anything else. His face was all over the internet as was his location, university etc. What next? His parents? His pet hamster?

    OK I’m being facetious but the flaming pitchforks he had ignited had to be quelled. The police had no other choice, and if he was set free with no punishment, SOMEone would have made sure he was.

    This way, he’ll be out in a couple of weeks with a tag on feeling sorry for himself and the public will, for the most part, feel vindicated. I do agree that it’s a harsh punishment; when you consider Terry gets a £5k fine and Suarez gets a slap on the wrist, even Boy George can handcuff a rent boy to his bed and only get community service.

    On the flipside, Within hours of this news breaking, a person on twitter who’s screen name is @scouserhater called me, a Scouser, a ‘dime a dozen’ moron for (1) being a Scouser and (2) insinuating that although he was revelling in Stacey’s jail sentence, saying Twitter needs to be more strict, his screen name is tantamount to similar hatred.

    I know Scousers aren’t a ‘race’ so to speak, but it’s still hatred. I hope I’m wrong, and that this sends a message to Trolls, but I do think that keyboard warriors will never learn, no matter how many jail sentences you throw at them.

    But maybe now, we will have a lot less of them.

    Sad fact is, that no one wins in a case like this.

  2. Posted 27Mar12 at 11:30 am | Permalink
    David

    If he had left out the racial element of his tweets then I would wholeheartedly agree that he has done nothing wrong (in terms of the law). However, he hasn’t, and when you think that he has: 1) Laughed at a black man who is fighting for his life on a football pitch 2) Claimed that said man is dead and found it to be funny 3) Racially abused fellow tweeters rushing to defence of said man, making an explicit reference to slavery (‘go pick some cotton’) – then I think most people would agree that something needs to be done. Personally, I think that 56 days in jail is extremely heavy handed, but let’s face it, he won’t be using such language publicly again.

    I am all for free speech, but what this man has said it a massive grey area. He took a risk, and he lost.

  3. Posted 27Mar12 at 11:31 am | Permalink
    Danny

    Hard to argue against him getting sentenced to something, but a custodial sentence just seems a waste and rather OTT. Give him a heavy community service sentence instead and let him put something back. The idea of locking him up to protect him is rather bizarre to say the least. It is only going to be temporary anyway, and you can’t give in to the vigilante mob.

    As per Vicky’s comparison to footballers, Terry’s case has yet to be heard and Suarez (who didn’t even get a trial) got fined £40,000 and an 8 match ban despite no guilt being established. Not much to compare with there.

  4. Posted 27Mar12 at 11:33 am | Permalink
    Nick Smith

    Public Order crimes, as they stand at the moment, are an assault on free speech. As you say, it is not illegal to be a racist twat – which Mr Stacey surely is – and quite rightly. Being a racist twat carries its own sentence, it is only likely to hurt Mr Stacey, not other people.

    The idea that he should be convicted for causing a danger to himself is similarly flawed. Making yourself unpopular, however severely, is not and should not be a crime. It is everyone’s right to be an arsehole without fear of violence – it is also everyone’s right to cause a danger to themselves, so long as they don’t cause a danger to others.

    Public Order offences were introduced largely to deal with football violence and hooliganism. You are right to say that it is understandable why police would want powers to intervene proactively in these circumstances. But the laws are so poorly and openly worded that they give a carte-blanche to arrest anyone who the modern media, or politically correct elite, don’t like.

    Racism, homophobia and hatred are not crimes. They’re stupid, yes. They’ll make you unpopular, yes. But society’s response should be to erase such people from their Christmas card lists, and not invite them to parties – rather than throw them in jail.

  5. Posted 27Mar12 at 11:34 am | Permalink
    Nick Smith

    ” 1) Laughed at a black man who is fighting for his life on a football pitch 2) Claimed that said man is dead and found it to be funny 3) Racially abused fellow tweeters rushing to defence of said man, making an explicit reference to slavery (‘go pick some cotton’) – then I think most people would agree that something needs to be done.”

    None of these are crimes. Being a dick isn’t a crime.

  6. Posted 27Mar12 at 11:38 am | Permalink
    Iai

    I don’t support or defend him but I do find it scary how sites like Twitter give drunken idiots the ability to destroy their lives so easily – apart from jail he is likely to get kicked out of university.

  7. Posted 27Mar12 at 11:39 am | Permalink
    Vicky

    I’ll admit, the footballer comparisons are just two recent incidents of football-related racism (I read today that Terry was due for a £5k fine, albeit not via a secure news source, so if that’s incorrect I’ll take it back) that did not result in a custodial sentence.

    However, I think it was more that Stacey’s incitement of violence and the potential it had to escalate is what has seen him get locked up. Had he not been removed by the police, it’s likely that some people would have taken the law into their own hands.

    A few weeks away will ensure that this will be less likely to happen. Sadly, not 100% unlikely, but simply less likely.

    Top parody Red Dwarf, Liam Stacey is an idiot. This is his crime, it is also his punishment.

  8. Posted 27Mar12 at 11:40 am | Permalink
    Vicky

    And he has already been kicked out of university. They said he brought them into disrepute and he cannot go back and complete his degree.

  9. Posted 27Mar12 at 11:43 am | Permalink
    Andrew

    56 days in prison? Ridiculous decision. Punishment doesn’t fit the crime at all. People get themselves into a frenzy over these things, that shouldn’t mean judges abandon all notions of justice.

  10. Posted 27Mar12 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Comment five. “None of those are crimes”?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hate_speech_laws_in_the_United_Kingdom

  11. Posted 27Mar12 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    I’m not suggesting for one moment that a 56 day prison sentence is perfectly balanced but I have an issue here in that this blog’s defence essentially centres on a question

    “So has he been jailed for eight weeks solely for being offensive at a time when people on Twitter were congratulating themselves for the outpouring of goodwill to the fallen Muamba?”

    to which the answer, quite clearly, is no.

  12. Posted 27Mar12 at 11:56 am | Permalink
    David

    Nick Smith – “None of these are crimes. Being a dick isn’t a crime.”

    Is calling a black man a ‘wog’ and telling him to ‘go pick some cotton’ not a crime? If he had said that to someone face to face on the street, would there be no grounds for arrest? If Liam Stacey was in a room with the few people he abused online, and said everything he tweeted to their faces, would a policeman not be able to arrest him?

    As I said before, I think this is a grey area, but grey areas tend to favour the police and the law rather than the offender – this isn’t right. The issue that needs to be addressed in my opinion is whether the realm of Twitter is categorised as a public space or not. If it is, then perhaps he is arrestable for a public order offence.

    The law needs to learn to keep up with the digitalized society that will continue to encapsulate all aspects of our day to day lives.

  13. Posted 27Mar12 at 12:40 pm | Permalink
    Danny

    Really? since when was racism not illegal, has there been a change in the race relations act i dont know about! call someone a black #### will get you prosecuted, well it used to! Eitherway it doesnt matter now becasue the racists have total control of the police and courts that every black and asian is forced to fight for themselves!

  14. Posted 27Mar12 at 12:44 pm | Permalink
    Roger

    I think his comments show no matter what we say,there is a underlying racist problem in the UK.I think this is the tip of a much bigger social problem.may be time to take a long hard look at ourselves!!!

  15. Posted 27Mar12 at 1:46 pm | Permalink
    danny webb

    whats all the bother about, im off to cut my toe nails…however, if he got 56 days, john terry should as well

  16. Posted 27Mar12 at 2:16 pm | Permalink
    Dan

    If words are racist and hence hateful explain why there are any quentin tarantino films in this country.
    Ridiculous. He’s a twat but there shouldnt be a law against that. Am i now vulnerable to arrest for being ?
    Its the thought police, pure and simple. GBH you get suspended sentences, sound like a black man in a QT film and you get 56days. Is that last commen racist? Which words are acceptable? Can i call Usain Bolt black, person of colour, darker than average, not-white. WTF!? This whole thing is so stupid, weve got to stopbeing so damn sensitive. Someone calls me a hokey then im not going to call the police. Likewise i accept other racial groups to be similarly thick skinned and grown up otherwise we are going to hell in a handcart.
    Would Stan Colleymore have reported him if he was black. i dont think so.

  17. Posted 27Mar12 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    “since when was racism not illegal”

    Racism never has been illegal, and rightly so. People may believe stupid and wrong things, but only the worst kind of totalitarian scumbag would seek to have them prosecuted for it.

    Incitement to racial hatred (eg telling a white supremacist meeting “Blacks are scum and you should burn down their houses”) has been illegal since the 1960s; more recently, racially aggravated public order offences (the example upthread of going up to a black person in the pub and telling them to go and pick cotton) have also been made illegal.

    I’m sceptical that Stacey’s behaviour counts as a public order offence. The whole point about a public order offence is that you behave in a way that would provoke a reasonable person to violence.

    Saying racist things in a pub face-to-face clearly fits that bill – but someone who doesn’t lose the urge to punch you after a few minutes of calming-down time, and instead tracks you down using the internet as a target, is no longer a reasonable person so much as a psychopath.

  18. Posted 27Mar12 at 2:26 pm | Permalink
    Izzy

    The 1986 Public Order Act states that:
    ‘A person who uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or displays any written material which is threatening, abusive or insulting, is guilty of an offence if—
    (a) he intends thereby to stir up racial hatred, or
    (b) having regard to all the circumstances racial hatred is likely to be stirred up thereby.’
    While Stacey’s jail sentence is harsh (and, in my opinion, a bit too harsh just for writing shit on Twitter), it is legal. :/

  19. Posted 27Mar12 at 3:08 pm | Permalink
    Catherine Jarman

    What about Dianne Abbott – still sitting in the Houses of Parliament after making a whole string of racist comments? could it be it is because she is black that nothing has been done? Quelle Surprise!! What about the four Muslim women who severly kicked and beat a white woman in a drunken frenzy and of course the judge let them off saying they were not accustomed to drinking alcohol…the injustice against the whites really beggars belief. WAKE UP ALL WHITE PEOPLE BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE. I am sick of seeing the white community clamped down upon for things that blacks get away with and lets face it look at the gun crime drugs wars etc. why do we not see the true figures published in the papers (including ethnic involvement) There are thousands of racist comments posted everyday by people from a variety of ethnic groups and yet somehow, only the whites are to blame…..as always. How sick people are and how sheep-like,just because a famous footballer is involved, the issue is elevated above anything that might be similar, involving an ordinary person. There are too many weak-kneed people in our country and most of them are white, they live in unrealistic rose-tinted worlds that they do not want disturbed by the truth. This attitude is destroying our country for future generations. According to the bill of human rights we (the English) have the right to protect our way of life…just like any other nation, so why are we being deprived of that right by those traitors who have encouraged mass immigration. I’ll give the blacks their due, at least they stick up for their own. I am doing the same and am on the side of my white brother.

  20. Posted 27Mar12 at 4:53 pm | Permalink
    Gary Socrates

    I love how this blog entry on the Index of Censorship website indicates the mistake of believing in absolutes. On one hand you get tolerant John B: “People may believe stupid and wrong things, but only the worst kind of totalitarian scumbag would seek to have them prosecuted for it.” Er… so do you want to lock up the “totalitarian scumbags”? Meanwhile you get the completely objectionable and racist entry from Catherine Jarman above. Index shouldn’t be wasting time and energy defending the rights of (and giving the web space to) ultra-right racist numbskulls, but concentrating on the worthy and sensible issues it normally comments and campaigns on. This prosecution for inciting racial hatred is rare, but a useful marker – the court has ruled that publishing racist rants likely to stir up racial hatred on the internet is a criminal act. Excellent news. Lets get the rest of the nazis off the net now. (You realise that allowing Catherine Jarman’s entry on this site leaves you – quite reasonable – open to prosecution yourselves?)

  21. Posted 27Mar12 at 5:01 pm | Permalink
    Colin

    I quite agree about the actions of Dianne Abbott and the four Muslim women – but because nothing happened to them it does not make Liam Stacey’s behaviour acceptable. It amazes me how many bigoted people will jump on the bandwaggon and take an incident like this and use it ti fuel their own racist minds.

  22. Posted 27Mar12 at 5:24 pm | Permalink
    Charlotte Moore

    “I love how this blog entry on the Index of Censorship website indicates the mistake of believing in absolutes. On one hand you get tolerant John B: “People may believe stupid and wrong things, but only the worst kind of totalitarian scumbag would seek to have them prosecuted for it.” Er… so do you want to lock up the “totalitarian scumbags”? Meanwhile you get the completely objectionable and racist entry from Catherine Jarman above.”

    I think you are being a bit over sensitive there, there is a difference between fact and hate or racism. Ms Jarman is in her right to express her opinion on the state of England and as far as I can see, there was no racial abuse used there!

  23. Posted 27Mar12 at 5:26 pm | Permalink
    Chaz

    ” Meanwhile you get the completely objectionable and racist entry from Catherine Jarman above.”

    I think you are being a bit over sensitive there, there is a difference between fact and hate or racism. Ms Jarman is in her right to express her opinion on the state of England and as far as I can see, there was no racial abuse used there!

  24. Posted 27Mar12 at 5:34 pm | Permalink
    Step Left

    Do you know what I hate? White people who ceed rights of speech over to the state. You are all a disgrace and I fucking hate all and everyone of you facilitators of this outrageous attack on freedom of speech. You are little eichmanns.

  25. Posted 27Mar12 at 5:53 pm | Permalink
    me

    @stepleft @catherine LOL

  26. Posted 27Mar12 at 5:55 pm | Permalink
    Mark

    “even Boy George can handcuff a rent boy to his bed and only get community service.”

    He went to jail.

  27. Posted 27Mar12 at 6:38 pm | Permalink
    Chris

    Rather than worry about free-speech, why not do something about it and become a magistrate? That way you can apply your common-sense and understanding to cases such as this.

  28. Posted 27Mar12 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

    Poor Stacey…its not fair. It makes you ashamed to be british. Probably the answer for the white people is to go to live in a nice village in the Cotswolds….until some foreigner comes to bother you.

  29. Posted 28Mar12 at 9:37 am | Permalink
    Jane Samuels

    I do not support freedom of speech when it comes to inciting racism and hate. However after Stacey is locked up, expelled from a university degree and cloaked with a criminal record for the rest of his life, is no one asking at what point is the issue of racism re-addressed? Sadly not at all unless a training in morality skills are offered in during his many days in prison? No, I thought not.

    As Padraig rightly points out the word “justice” has been perverted and purged of any ethical truth. Instead, as a nation, we seem fixated, with almost Biblical proportions, on punishment. The problem is that the concept of “restorative” justice has not been adopted by the judicial system, nor as a culture.Rather than setting in motion any mechanisms to address the root cause of racism and the solution, we rely on the judges and a judicial system to serve out severe (if not devastating) punishments setting the trap for deepening racial divides and perhaps further criminality .

  30. Posted 28Mar12 at 3:17 pm | Permalink
    zootcadillac

    Whilst there is no freedom of expression or speech in UK law ( we have to go to the European court of human rights for that ) even where it does exist in the US and Europe, there is no allowance for hate speech or freedom to incite racial hatred. It does not matter what your personal interpretation of the law is the fact remains that Stacy was guilty of the crime he was convicted of. Freedom of speech is not the same as freedom to say what the hell you like with no consequence.

    People in the UK are often confused about freedom of expression and don’t understand that we have little of it and what there is is covered by common law and has a multitude of exceptions including threatening, abusive, and recently and controversially insulting speech or behavior likely to cause a breach of the peace (which has been used to prohibit racist speech targeted at individuals), incitement, incitement to racial hatred, incitement to religious hatred, incitement to terrorism including encouragement of terrorism and dissemination of terrorist publications, glorifying terrorism, collection or possession of information likely to be of use to a terrorist, treason including imagining the death of the monarch, sedition, obscenity, indecency including corruption of public morals and outraging public decency, defamation, prior restraint, restrictions on court reporting including names of victims and evidence and prejudicing or interfering with court proceedings, prohibition of post-trial interviews with jurors, scandalizing the court by criticising or murmuring judges, time, manner, and place restrictions, harassment, privileged communications, trade secrets, classified material, copyright, patents, military conduct, and limitations on commercial speech such as advertising.

  31. Posted 28Mar12 at 3:42 pm | Permalink
    James T

    It seems absurd to say that saying what he said online has the same legal status and ramifications as if it were said face to face in a pub or somesuch. No one can honestly say that they would react or feel the same way in both situations and so it seems quite strange to prosecute him on such a law.

    Also, Jane Samuels I couldn’t agree more with your comment. If you ask me it comes down to a purely emotional reaction to wrongdoing without any rational thought as to what caused someone to act in any way and no consideration of benefits or lack thereof of punishment for punishment’s sake

  32. Posted 03Apr12 at 5:24 pm | Permalink
    maturecheese

    It really is simple. I disagree with what he said but I care about free speech far more. Those who are easily offended and they are growing in number as the state encourages them, need to worry more about our liberties being eroded than feeling ‘offended’

  33. Posted 22Aug12 at 11:06 pm | Permalink
    Francesca Canu

    why is sexism better tolerated than racism? http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/21/savannah-dietrich-sexual-assault_n_1819572.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000009#slide=more246088

  34. Posted 07Feb13 at 10:27 am | Permalink
    David

    This is seriously messed up. Does the UK really have no concept of free speech?

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4 Trackbacks

  1. By A Martyr for Twitter « Bob Average on 29Mar12 at 4:54 pm

    [...] to set an example. There has been a lot of concern over the heavy handed nature of his sentence. This blog says: But was there actually any risk that Stacey was threatening public order? I don’t think [...]

  2. [...] law clamp down upon those who tweet as freely as they would talk in the pub, as Swansea student Liam Stacey found out all too well. We are taking part in swathes of 140-character conversations, but how much is the [...]

  3. [...] communication are now used to bring prosecutions for speech on social media.Cases such as those of Liam Stacey, Azhar Ahmed and Paul Chambers in the UK have seen prosecution for the posting of [...]

  4. By Social Media and the Law | The Descrier on 14Mar13 at 11:17 am

    [...] no one has quite nailed what it is we do on social media. When student Liam Stacey was convicted in March 2012 after making derogatory remarks about stricken footballer Fabrice Muamba on twitter, [...]

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