As many of you know Wednesday 18 April 2012 was National Stalking Day.
I had the privilege of being invited to speak at the National Stalking Day Event at the House of Lords, in conjunction with Dr Carsten Maple of The National Centre forCyberstalking Research. I was in the distinguished company of Baroness Brinton, who chaired this event and several other Members of Parliament, members of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, Law Enforcement Personnel and other Peers of the Realm.
Cyberstalking is an issue very close to my heart, given the current plight of our client Ms. Nicola Brookes, against consistent online harassment and stalking that she is suffering via the Facebook Social Networking Website. What did she do to attract such hostile attention, you may ask? Well, she made an innocent remark of support on the Facebook Group of X-Factor contestant Frankie Cocozza. Pinder Reaux made the decision to act for Nicola on a pro bono basis to try and bring these offenders to justice, because the police did not take her matter any further. The current stage in the proceedings involves an application being made for an injunction from the High Court to compel Facebook to release the IP addresses of the posters of this information, in the hope of tracing the identity of the offenders and bring them to justice by means of a private prosecution. This will be the first ever private prosecution of its kind in the UK.
My speech at the Lords was focused on the fact that Cyberstalking is an inherent and serious problem. It is no longer bubbling beneath the surface affecting ‘geeky teenagers’ who spend all day ‘tweeting, ‘checking in’ or ‘updating their status.’ It is here, looking us fully in the face, and the police are not equipped, with the technical know-how or personnel to be able to help people suffering from it. The truth of the matter is that Nicola should not have to embark on a private prosecution; a criminal offence has been committed and the police should be dealing with this. The cost of legal and court fees alone would be a huge deterrent to many people being harassed and stalked online in this way and there are many people being left to suffer this horrendous crime on their own. I and my firm could not allow this to happen for Nicola. Nicola was turned away by the police and told simply to get in touch with Facebook herself. Her stalking has now got to the stage where the trolls have managed to obtain her personal details and they have even posted her home address online. What will be their next move?
A representative survey of the UK, was commissioned by Bains Cohen into the extent of Cyberstalking, the results of which were astounding – over 1000 16-40 year olds were surveyed and over half – 53% to be precise, admitted that they had received some form of abusive electronic communication. However, what then followed was an extraordinary statistic of only 14 % actually reporting the matter to the police as they felt no confidence in them – a staggering figure of almost 80% felt that the police would not take their matter seriously – precisely what was found in the Nicola Brookes matter. Taking stock whilst delivering my speech at the Lords, many officers were rather downcast and even approached me afterwards, pledging their support and making promises of helping to track Nicola’s trolls. One officer went to the extent of saying how embarrassed he felt during my speech as he could obtain IP addresses with ease under RIPA (The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000) something that my firm will have to make an application at the High Court for, and then convince a Judge as to the merits of Nicola’s case, and when the relevant order is obtained, serve it on Facebook and wait for their response. Despite our communications with the police after this event, there is sadly, nothing the police have done to take Nicola’s matter any further.
We often hear about celebrities who have been stalked online, Richard Bacon, Liz McClarnon and even Baroness Sal Brinton herself. But this is not just a ‘celebrity crime’, this is happening every single day to everyday normal people and it must be stopped, otherwise we will see more cases like Megan Meier and Amanda Cummings, who committed suicide in the United States as a result of abusive online messages, but the next cases will be at our front door, unless we do something about it now, and I am hopeful that the new Stalking Bill and cases like Nicola’s will assist in preventing this intrusive and damaging crime.
Rupinder Bains – Senior Partner at Specialist Defamation Law Firm Pinder Reaux & Associates
Look out for my next post that explains more about the Pinder Reaux Cyberstalking Survey Results, which will illustrate just how much of an issue this is.